After serving time in a Virginia prison following convictions on gun and drug-possession charges, Sean Collins-Harris decided he would fight the odds against his ever returning to white-collar work with the only tool he had: education.
“I refused to believe that I was going to be confined to a blue-collar world,” Collins-Harris, 28, says. “If they didn’t open the door for me, I would open my own. If I had a proper education, and learned how to be an organizational leader, I could start my own company; I could do my own thing.”
Today, Collins-Harris has a master’s degree and works for a property-management company in Virginia Beach. It took a personal crash that landed him inside St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake, Virginia, where he says he buffed floors for 27 cents an hour, for Collins-Harris to understand what so many young American men don’t.
The U.S. workplace is polarizing between the education haves and have-nots, says David Autor, professor of economics atMassachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. So-called middle-skill jobs, typically well-paying work that doesn’t require extensive higher education, are vanishing, dividing the labor force into high- and low-skill positions. While women are moving up the knowledge ladder, male educational attainment is growing at a slower rate.
“It is terrific that women are getting higher levels of education,” Autor says. “The problem is that males are not.”
Men lagging behind on education raises problems for how fast the U.S. economy can grow because there aren’t enough highly skilled Americans, creating a mismatch between company demand and labor-market supply. (Read more.)