The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- What does Occupy Wall Street have against scientists, doctors, economists, lawyers, software developers, engineers, high-level managers, chemists and college professors? Add in securities traders and you have the professions that are the top 1% of wage earners in America: the people making more than $250,000.
All of these professions, except the securities trader, require science-related and/or advanced degrees. To secure these professions people had to work hard for years.Right now the demand for these professions exceeds supply and that's a big problem. More than ever the nation needs more of these top wage earners; these professions make major contributions to strengthening the economy and advancing the standard of living for every American.
America's college graduates are choosing fields of study where jobs are hard to find.
Good high-level managers, engineers, software developers, chemists and scientists drive productivity and/or innovations that lead to the creation of high-paying jobs. Economists help to identify where opportunities are, which helps to create jobs. Doctors make sure that people are healthy and productive. College professors play an indispensable role in developing the skills for every profession.
The problems in the U.S. economy today are enormous. The professions just noted can play a crucial role in job creation that can put America back on its economic track, including raising the standard of living for all Americans. And it needs to be raised. According to the
, real median income in America declined by 7% between 1999 and 2011.
Why then are more than half of America's four-year college graduates choosing fields of study, such as history, sociology, visual arts and journalism -- where jobs are hard to find because supply exceeds demand, where graduates generally can only make micro contributions to solving America's mega economic problems and where career and pay opportunities are limited?
Something though can be said for these students getting degrees. At 72%, America has the highest college enrollment rate in the world. At 50% it also has the highest drop out rate. Less than 30% of Americans complete a four-year degree. Only a third continue on to secure an advanced degree. Some cite the cost of education as an excuse, but there are few investments that have the ROI of a college education. According to the U.S. Census, a master's degree is worth $1.3 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma.
The graduation statistics for high school are more disturbing. The U.S., spending nearly $100,000 per student for primary and secondary education, invests more in education than any country but Switzerland. This though does not translate into higher graduation rates. Among the OECD's advanced nations, the U.S. came in 12th with a high school graduation rate of 72%. Poland's expenditures are a third of Americas and they have a graduation rate of 92%.
People that don't graduate from high school are in the lowest 20% of wage earners. Those with a high school degree move into the lowest 30% to 40%. The bigger challenge for people who don't complete a college education that delivers skills in demand is that the number of jobs for low-skilled Americans is decreasing. According to McKinsey, by 2020 there will be 6 million more low-skilled workers than available low-skilled jobs. If you think income inequality is bad now, it's going to get worse if the number of workers who are unskilled or have the wrong skills continues to grow.
I can't imagine that the Occupiers on Wall Street have problems with hard working doctors, software developers, college professors, engineers, scientists, business people, chemists and economists. These are the professions that hold the key to rising standards of living for all Americans. They should have a problem with the number of students who are dropping out of high school and college, and selecting fields of study that won't help America to solve many of the problems they care so deeply about.
If the problem the Occupiers have is really that portion of the 1% who work on Wall Street, they should focus their attention right there. They can do this by urging Congress to get the regulations drafted that will implement Basel III -- they are behind schedule, and they should be urging shareholders to exercise their say on pay when executive compensation for Wall Street executives comes up for a vote.