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What explains the growing gap in wages? Computers. (chronicle.com)
25 points by crocus on July 23, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments



Actually, the article actively refutes the idea that computers explain the wage gap. The thesis is that it's all due to supply and demand in the labor force, and that it has been going on since electrification in the early 1900s.


After the second world war, the GI Bill heavily subsidized tuition for many American veterans.* This led to a huge surge in college enrollment, which persisted through the decade. Greater exposure to higher education led to more interest among the general population. Furthermore, students could avoid being drafted for the Vietnam war.

The long-term increase in enrollment raised the bar for expected education in potential employees, and that has in turn perpetuated itself. The employability gap between the college-educated and those with high school diplomas or less has continued to widen, and may now be escalating to a split in the college-educated.

* These benefits were realistically only accessible to white veterans, though. Most universities were still segregated.


Occasionally someone posts to HN stating they want want to drop out of high school or go straight from high school to working full time. Maybe they should read this first.


eh, I didn't go to college. of course, when I graduated highschool it was 1997, and I had 2 years of paid experience as a sysadmin, so I was able to jump right into a .com job, and I'm a UNIX SysAdmin- a computer janitor. SysAdmins often have less formal education than Developers, so some of this was just that I 'got lucky' - but I do know many others who have done ok without formal education.

Yeah, if I had stuck it out, I'd probably be earning another 20%-30%, (just looking at what my co-workers make) but I'm still comfortably into the six figure range.

Granted, that's not great for the bay area, average nerd salary around here is north of $140K, and I don't rate that unless I'm contracting, but it's certainly an OK salary for someone who hasn't hit 30 yet.

The key to making decent money without college is to get jobs that count (really, this is good advice regardless of your other educational plans. Most places a year of experience is worth a little less than a year of education. If you can get both, you are golden.) If you want to be a computer guy, don't take a summer job tending a till- if you can't find an internship, pester local offices to see if they need a windows reboot monkey, or see if you can get the local web-design place to give you minimum wage to do basic stuff. Or repair computers for your parent's friends. Charge $5 or $10/hr if you have to... it's experience and reccomendations you are after at that stage.

My first job was at a mom and pop computer repair place... I was paid less than minimum wage, but it was an awesome experience, and it paid off handsomly. Remember that if you don't have education, you need experience. Without education or experience, nobody is going to hire you for a 'real job' (at least for 'real pay') Find someone willing to let you do a 'real job' for next to no pay for a period of time. Remember that at these jobs a good reccomendation from the boss is worth many times over what they are paying you.

Certifications are nice, but with the exception of perhaps, the ccie, none of them can touch a few years experience doing the job you are trying to get.

I wouldn't want to discurage people from getting educated- I think college can be very valuable (look at my grammar.) but not going to college doesn't condemn you to poverity.


"... SysAdmins often have less formal education than Developers, so some of this was just that I 'got lucky' - but I do know many others who have done ok without formal education. ..."

You could argue SysAdmins with "a bit" of training make high quality developers. Of the best developers I know a lot are from the SysAdmin tree. The one downside of back room work though is it is just ripe for outsourcing. Narrow focus has it's own evolutionary disadvantages and it is "our" doing. This is one thing Phil Greenspun mentioned in JL's "Founders" and another reason startups kick-ass - outsource the management not the engineering.


Yeah. I know some very good developers who were first SysAdmins. Even I have written a patch here and there to various system programs. To 'level up' as a sysadmin, even if you don't want to be a dev, you do need to know some programming. I don't know if I have the attention span to sit down and write a large app from end to end, but many times I've had to hack up the programs a client was using. I once patched courier-imap so my employer could continue to use the same UIDLs

Ugh. nearly all customers were using pop3 like IMAP- 'leave mail on server' the problem was that UIDLS needed to stay the same, (the UIDL value is an identifier of a pop3 message- the pop3 client uses it keep track of what messages are new in the pathalogical 'leave messages on server' scheme. If we changed the UIDLs, all messages would be 'new' to the mail client and customers would scream.) and qpopper UIDLs contain characters that can't be in filenames, while courier-imap's pop3 daemon uses the UIDL for the filename... so I hacked it so that if the filename started with 0x, it treated the filename as a hex-encoded UIDL. (otherwise it acted as normal... that way next time they upgrade the courier server, they probably don't need to include my patch... most of the old 0x mails will be gone in a number of months.) A simple change, but it allowed us to move to maildir (which isn't always faster, but in this case was massively faster) without disturbing the customers. But yeah. as a more senior SysAdmin, you are expected to occasionally deal with that sort of thing. Being able to kindof read debugger output also really helps.

Oh, also the 'got lucky' comment was more about coming of age during the .com boom than about becoming a SysAdmin. The .com boom (and my timing) was luck. Becoming a SysAdmin, well, that was more the 'path of least resistance' at least once I got started down this path.


"... Ugh. nearly all customers were using pop3 like IMAP- 'leave mail on server' the problem was that UIDLS needed to stay the same, (the UIDL value is an identifier of a pop3 message- the pop3 client uses it keep track of what messages are new in the pathalogical 'leave messages on server' scheme. If we changed the UIDLs, all messages would be 'new' to the mail client and customers would scream.) and qpopper UIDLs contain characters that can't be in filenames, while courier-imap's pop3 daemon uses the UIDL for the filename... ..."

Not write a whole system app but the tools (like "duplo") so other devs can use them without shooting themselves in the foot having to learn or experiment in very specific niches.


You're confusing cause and effect.

People who will succeed (make more money) are capable of going to college. College itself doesn't cause people to make more money.


Why is inequality considered a bad thing? What matters is whether the median wage is falling or not. Better to allow some people to earn massive amounts and have a rising median wage than to focus on inequality and have a stagnant or falling median wage.

It's plainly obvious that people have differing skills, and the whole communist experiment showed that you couldn't motivate people without rewarding them monetarily for their skills, risk and hard work (startups being a good example here).


Far too many people go to college. Most of you went to decent schools, so you're probably not aware that US state schools are literally inundated by federally-subsidized mouth-breathers, who are doomed to drop out and work at Burger King, or get communications degrees and work at Burger King.

A high school graduate in the 1960s could earn a middle class income through unskilled labor. This was an historical anomaly, and there's no reason to compare wage data today with that of the past. As soon as non-Western manufacturing labor entered the market, the price was driven down. Anomaly over.


> Far too many people go to college.

I am convinced that many people go to college only to become employable, not because they have any academic interest to pursue.

If a high school diploma actually meant that you could read and write and multiply and divide, then maybe there wouldn't be as many jobs out there requiring college degrees when all they really need are the skills you should have learned in high school.


>I am convinced that many people go to college only to become employable, not because they have any academic interest to pursue.

I know this is true of business schools. B-schools don't really teach anything; they're actually a way to signal to potential employers that you could come up with the 100k and 2 years necessary to go through school, the smarts to get through admissions, the persistence to get through it, and the willingness to absorb bullshit management-speak (meaning you'll be obedient).


"A high school graduate in the 1960s could earn a middle class income through unskilled labor. This was an historical anomaly, and there's no reason to compare wage data today with that of the past."

Interesting response.

One can also consider the shift toward the "service economy," which in many cases is lower-paying and even easier to outsource than unskilled physical labor like manufacturing and construction.


Everybody should further their education and reasoning skills, even if a system is not perfect. Secondly, college graduates who work at Burger King later decide to get a Masters or get a job at a good company through a friend or when the job market improves. Such work experience is itself not necessarily bad or demeaning.


I think this is conventional wisdom coming from a biased source and about 10 years out of date (at least). The premium paid to college graduates has been shrinking - I know that in Canada, there are huge shortages of "skilled trades" - meaning plumbers, electricians, welders, etc, and I know that friends of mine who have gone into those fields have done very well economically.


"Europeans would look at our education system and be appalled by two things. One was that we were educating so many, which they considered to be highly wasteful. The other was that we were educating girls as much as boys."

I would have thought it was another two things: One, US high school education is poor; US graduates are one or two years behind the European graduate. Second, the US does not pay for college and university; preventing able individuals from getting a full education.

Maybe Goldin was confusing Europeans with the Church.


As a European, I am not appalled by the fact that you educate as many girls as boys.

What makes me wonder is why you Bachelor is 4 years, will ours is only 3.


The gap is explained by the constant growth of human knowledge and the constant stasis (or even retrograde motion) of high school curricula. Thus, one must go to college to make a contribution to society.


I've often thought that subsidizing higher education would lubricate the U.S. economy.


higher education in the US is heavily subsidised. The meagre fees that the lower colleges charge are waived if you are poor, and at that point all you need to cover is food/books/rent.


I mean more subsidization, so that changing careers is a real option for most people.


I don't think that the problem with changing careers has to do so much with paying for college as it does with paying your bills while you change careers.


Can be construed as the same thing.


The subsidy money has to come from somewhere (taxes and/or inflation), so you would add friction to the US economy elsewhere.


That argument would hold more water if the U.S. budget wasn't so padded with fat and wars.




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