Yesterday and also today, I made some references to Detroit's huge educational attainment gap, which has essentially left the city with a disproportionately uncompetitive labor pool. I also pointed out the strong indirect relationship between educational attainment and unemployment in the BLS's monthly employment situation reports. I've made the same point elsewhere.
I was informed that at least one conservative sees a similar picture. After searching for the piece, I found a blog entry by former Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner. In part, he wrote:
That city was once the picture of American industrial might. Henry Ford deployed the production line there and helped create the modern middle class. During World War II, more than a third of U.S. war material was manufactured in the city. During the postwar boom, cars made in Detroit embodied the American success story.
Now, the Motor City is collapsing in every conceivable way.
The unemployment rate is 18 percent, meaning almost 1 of every 5 people is out of work. A big reason is that the city's schools have failed. Just 7 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading. Only 12 percent of Detroit residents have college degrees. Yet Detroit teachers are the best-paid in the nation, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy says, when their pay is adjusted for purchasing power.
He goes on to cite some outcomes from statewide referenda that could, in his opinion, be helpful to Detroit.
1. Feulner demonstrates that not every conservative embraces the narrative that Detroit's fiscal catastrophe is a consequence of partisan governance.
2. He shows a big picture understanding of the relationship between education-employment-outcomes (parenthetical note: his no longer serving as Heritage's President is a loss for the organization, both in terms of a loss of intellectual gravitas and ability to communicate coherent conservative viewpoints). This understanding almost certainly is shared beyond ideological lines and it is one area on which a coherent recovery framework would need to be developed if Detroit is to replenish its devastating loss of human capital so as to return to a growth trajectory (in terms of economic activity, socioeconomic indicators, etc.).
3. It would be interesting to learn more about teacher compensation in Detroit: Did the compensation reflect a risk premium of sorts to induce people to teach in Detroit's schools, were they the result of collective bargaining agreements that were increasingly disconnected from outcomes, were other factors involved?
4. The impact of the referenda outcomes he cites would depend on the factors that led to teacher compensation being what it is. If a risk premium is involved, the referenda outcomes would have little impact. If there were a fundamental disconnect between teacher compensation and outcomes at the school system level, it might offer some benefit (but empirical evidence related to reduced collective bargaining regarding salaries and also organizational outcomes is still very limited, so a large dose of caution is required).