A growing earnings gap between those with a college education and those without is creating economic and cultural rifts throughout the country. Half a century ago, economic opportunity and upward mobility were available to many white Americans, regardless of where they lived and what kind of education they had. They could graduate from high school and find a job at a local factory and make a good wage, or graduate from college and sit behind a desk and make a slightly better wage. About 90 percent of kids born in the 1940s earned more than their parents did, according to work by Stanford economist Raj Chetty.
But beginning in the 1980s, the returns on a college education started growing, and more of the benefits of economic growth started accruing to only those with an education, as those without an education saw their opportunities shrink. People with a college degree or more now earn 50 percent of aggregate U.S. household income, up from 37 percent in 1991, while people with less than a high school degree now earn 5 percent, down from 12 percent in 1991, according to Census data. (1991 is the earliest year for which there is comparable data.)
Today, people with a college degree are more likely than they used to be to move to metropolitan regions with good jobs and other people like them, and this means both that those regions do better over time and that the return on that education is even greater. Almost half of college graduates move out of their birth states by age 30, according to Enrico Moretti, an economist at Berkeley. Only 27 percent of high school graduates do.
Read more: America’s Great Divergence – The Atlantic