Let ‘Em Be Doctors and Lawyers and Such

People with college degrees and graduate degrees are making less in real income than they did at the start of the decade.  Indeed, only doctors and lawyers (and such?) are seeing growth.

Workers with professional degrees, such as doctors and lawyers, were the only educational group to see their inflation-adjusted earnings increase over the most recent economic expansion, adding to the concern that the economy has benefited higher-earning Americans at the expense of others.

Workers in every other educational group — including Ph.D.s as well as high school dropouts — earned less in 2007 than they did in 2000, adjusted for inflation, according to data from the Census Bureau. Data don’t include 2008 earnings.

[…]

Economists cite a number of reasons for falling wages for people with a bachelor’s degree. Open borders resulted in blue- and white-collar jobs being sent abroad — and skilled immigrants competing for jobs in the U.S. Job growth during the 2001 to 2007 expansion was weak compared to the late 1990s boom, thus putting less pressure on employers to dole out pay increases. Rising health-care costs are also a bigger part of total compensation than they were in the past. The Census data measure income, which doesn’t include the health-care bills employers pick up for workers.

The maternal occupational advice offered by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings all those years ago still holds, apparently.  The article contains no data on cowboys, although I understand that Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, and Tony Romo are doing quite well for themselves.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Having three daughters. One just finished with College and two currently enrolled. I am all to aware of the escalated costs for a College education.

    One thing I’ve mulled over in my mind for awhile is that just like the, housing bust, there is going to be an education bust. Graduates are in many cases have expensive educations with a lack of jobs that generate sufficent income to pay for college loans.

    Fortunately my oldest has landed a good starting job in her field, but she has a Bachelors and two Masters from Kettering University in Flint MI, (and the loans to prove it)

  2. Rick DeMent says:

    The Bachelors degree is the new high school diploma. The Masters is the new Bachelors. Our economy cannot produce enough high wage jobs to all that educate themselves. Meanwhile we are selling American know how, developed over the post war period at rates far below “market”(or at least far below the investment in developing it) in exchange for cheap labor.

    Greed is good (until it’s not).

  3. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Doctors are also seeing a dramatic increase in their malpractice insurance costs. Some doctors have even moved to more friendly areas or have changed medical fields to avoid the cost. Ironically, it’s the lawyers who are partially responsible for this increase in costs.

    But then again, I blame Bush.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Doctors and lawyers use the power of the state to maintain their earning advantage over most of society. No other occupations can come anywhere near the power of these two guilds.

    Doctors control medicine from the most minor cold to the most complex surgery when health techs and nurses could be doing much more of the work. Lawyers control the legal system from traffic tickets to corporate mergers while paralegals could be doing much more. But control from top to bottom means control of prices.

    Both of these professions are used by society when we have to use them and seldom by choice. That puts us in a disadvantaged position in terms of comparison shopping. The other disadvantage for the consumer is the way each profession effectively hides it’s fee structure. We never know going in what our costs will be.

    While the rest of us tighten our belts in a lean economy the power structure of doctors and lawyers will keep them fat and happy.

  5. Michael says:

    I’m with Plunk on this one, let nurses and paralegals do more, which they are perfectly capable of doing. Let doctors and lawyers advertise their price for services up front.

  6. Joe says:

    Even lawyers are having a tougher time as large law firms are beginning to lay off attorneys and not offering summer associates jobs. It’s not as simple as it once was to be a rich attorney.

  7. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Steve Plunk I COMPLETELY agree and it’s so rare to hear anyone calling out the anticompetitive practices of the medical and legal profession. But I have to tell you, there’s a third profession that does the same thing: engineering. In fact it’s rather more difficult to become a professional engineer than to be admitted to the bar. Roughly as difficult as becoming a medical doctor.

  8. Michael says:

    But I have to tell you, there’s a third profession that does the same thing: engineering. In fact it’s rather more difficult to become a professional engineer than to be admitted to the bar.

    For certain types of engineering. Those of us in the computer field have hijacked the term and set a disappointingly low barrier of entry on it.

  9. bains says:

    For certain types of engineering. Those of us in the computer field have hijacked the term and set a disappointingly low barrier of entry on it.

    The distinction Jeff was trying to make, I suspect, regards those of us who have the P.E. following our name. I wouldnt go so far as to compare my education and apprenticeship to doctors, (eight years before I could even sit for the exam), but I do like to point out that whereas most doctors can save life (usually one at a time), I can take out a whole lot if I screw up. (See the Hyatt Regent catwalk collapse.)

    Then again, my professional liability insurance is significantly less that an MD’s.

  10. sam says:

    Those of us in the computer field have hijacked the term and set a disappointingly low barrier of entry on it.

    I resemble that remark.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Steve Plunk is completely correct.

    In fact when you remove government and its handmaiden sectors of healthcare, education, and the law from the reckoning there’s been very little of either job growth or salary growth over the last eight years. Like those above I attribute it to various factors including technology, globalization, and the barriers to entry the practices of law and medicine have operating their favor.

    The question is what, if anything, to do about the situation? My own view is that it’s probably reasonable to think that salaries for jobs supported by tax dollars aren’t going to grow if salaries that aren’t supported by tax dollars aren’t growing, too.

  12. rodney dill says:

    The distinction Jeff was trying to make, I suspect, regards those of us who have the P.E. following our name.

    When I worked for EDS we had to stop using System Engineer and Software Engineer titles for people who didn’t have their P.E. Some states have even have laws concerning this.

  13. Michael says:

    When I worked for EDS we had to stop using System Engineer and Software Engineer titles for people who didn’t have their P.E. Some states have even have laws concerning this.

    I think most countries do too.

  14. just me says:

    Doctors control medicine from the most minor cold to the most complex surgery when health techs and nurses could be doing much more of the work.

    Even more so doctors greatly restrict the number of new doctors each year by restricting just how many people are accepted into medical school They are controlling the supply of doctors to the point that it keeps them at enough of a shortage to justify the pay.

    I think there are some areas in medicine where nurses and other medical professionals with training could easily step in a provide quality services. Midwifery is one that immediately comes to mind. Also the area of anesthesia-there are a lot of CRNA’s who could work more cheaply than doctors and provide care in areas where there may not be enough doctors.

  15. […] James Joyner of OTB comments on a Wall Street Journal article which notes that over the period 2000-2007, inflation-adjusted income has gone up only for people with professional degrees (doctors, lawyers, accountants, MBAs, etc). The article treats this as a long-term trend, and speculates on the causes. It’s my opinion that when analysing long-term trends, one must look at long-term data. Over a seven year period, your data is swamped by the business cycle, especially if you take as your starting point the peak of the dot-com bubble. […]