With that in mind, says Faris, it's vital for the public school system to prepare every child for a college education and for universities to support that goal through efforts such as the K-12 Initiative at the UW.
Of course, many of the jobs created in the new economy don't require a degreeand don't pay a family wage. While universities can't fix that problem, they can support research such as Divergent Paths to help understand it, says Faris.
Co-authors Morris and Handcock came to the University in 2000 after the UW tapped its University Initiatives Fund to create the Center for Statistics and Social Sciences. Although Divergent Paths was well under way by then, the center fosters interdisciplinary collaboration between sociologists and statisticians.
For Morris, Divergent Paths reflects a lifelong interest in issues of inequality. "It was what led me to become a sociologist and learn how to study these things scientifically," she says.
UW Sociology/Statistics Professor Martina Morris reflects on diminishing wage growth for today's workers - even those with a college degree. Photo and computer imaging by Mary Levin.
Morris, 46, grew up in Cleveland, and watched as the city went from industrial giant to economic invalid. "A lot of steel mills closed and the town kind of emptied out," she recalls. "I saw lots of people's parents put out of work. Fifty percent of the population of Cuyahoga County left."
Morris recalls her father, an architect, struggling to get loans when local banks were swallowed by out-of-state institutions that "didn't know Cleveland at all." Instead, they preferred lending money to booming regions such as the Southwest. "It was almost red lining," she says.
Today, Morris finds herself in a position to dissect such trends and reveal possible cures. "These are very large social processes that have an impact on the individual," says Morris. "The only way to change things is to understand them better."
Although it was "blind luck," the timing of the surveys couldn't have been better, says Morris. By targeting one group that entered the U.S. labor market in the late 1960s and another that began working in the early 1980s, the surveys enable Divergent Paths to compare the experiences of men who joined the work force before economic restructuring to those entering after.
The economy responded to restructuringdownsizing, deregulation, globalization, declining unionizationas if it were on Viagra. "Productivity growth has improved, unemployment and inflation are low, and corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product are climbing," write Morris and her colleagues. "Workplaces have become more efficient, the adoption of new technologies is brisk, and American global competitiveness is on the upswing."
For many workers, however, restructuring is a bitter pill. Classic economic theory predicts a rising tide will lift all boats, notes Morris, but the new economy has not distributed prosperity equally. Citing one of the book's many chartsChange in Hourly Wage By PercentileMorris points to 1980 and the start of a steep decline for all but the top 10 percent. "What happened that year?" she asks.
Of course, Morris already knew1980 ushered in Reaganomics and the trickle down theory. "That's what people were doing ... trickling down," she says. The chart shows the gap between top and bottom at its widest during stretches when the minimum wage was frozen, she notes.
But Ed Rice, a business, economics and finance professor at the UW, sees some potential cracks in the book's foundation. For one thing, the accuracy of deflator formulas crumbles over the long haul, says Rice, making it "fruitless to compare levels of 'well-offness' over 20-year periods, in my opinion."