By John Stapleford
As an economist, seeing the slow growth in jobs, wages and personal income in Delaware, it is baffling to see the legislature focus on such things as plastic bags, dogs in restaurants, and transgender bathrooms. How can our legislators be so out of touch with the bread–and–butter issues faced by so many Delaware citizens?
Sociologist Charles Murray says in his 2012 book “Coming Apart” that he believes American society has split into two distinct worlds, with those at the top of the income distribution living a completely different life than those at the bottom. The top and bottom have vastly different experiences in vocation (work), marriage, religion, and community.
The top has more wealth and income than ever before, and this comes with their own queues at airports, restricted floors in hotels, different schools, different food (think Whole Foods), swimming on private beaches, watching different television shows (think PBS) … all with people like themselves.
Those at the top are married and working, while those at the bottom are single and out of the labor force. And the two reinforce one another. Married men are more likely to work, and women are more likely to marry working men.
More than ever, the politicians tend to live in and hear from the world at the top, including the New York Times and Washington Post. So, the focus of the politicians, especially the Democrats, has shifted from kitchen–table concerns like finding a decent job to paying the medical bills and finding a good education for their children to identity politics, abortion, and abstract environmental concerns.
Could this be true in Delaware? The data speaks volumes.
Using Bureau of Census Current Population data for 2016-18 and looking at the differences between households in the top and bottom thirds of Delaware’s income distribution the following emerges.
With regard to work, 47% of the household heads in the bottom third are not in the labor force, compared to only 18% in the top third. Just 19% of the heads in the bottom third worked full-time year-round, compared to 50% in the top third and 49% of the bottom heads did not work at all in contrast to only 16% of the heads at the top.
Only 10% of the household heads at the bottom have a bachelor’s degree or more while 35% at the top do. In Delaware a bachelor’s degree pays 70% more per year than a high school degree.
Only 24% of the bottom households are married in contrast to 49% of the Delaware households at the top. By family type, 33% at the bottom are husband-wife families compared to 79% at the top and 47% at the bottom are female-headed families relative to 11% at the top.
Twenty-five years of research is clear: Children raised in single-parent families are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, engage in crime, and have emotional problems.
Given the data, one can believe that the political class in Delaware is increasingly out of touch with the life experiences and concerns of the one-third living at the bottom of the income distribution.
It is time to refocus. Two simple suggestions come to mind.
- Engage in substantive reform of public education. Over the past 20 years, two-thirds of Delaware’s public school eighth–graders have consistently tested below proficient in reading and math on the annual NAEP test. Meanwhile, motions at the recent annual National Education Association (of which DESEA is a member) meeting to better train teachers and improve student education were defeated. Supported were motions regarding “white fragility,” individual pronouns, slavery reparation, and the impact of voter suppression.
- Eliminate Delaware’s Health Resources Board with its Certificates of Needs. Research from the Mercatus Center estimates that this would reduce annual healthcare spending in Delaware by $250 million. Delaware currently ranks third among the states in health–care spending per capita. Delaware’s health–care industry uses Certificates of Need approval to block competition and reduce access to essential healthcare services in the state.
No one wants to see growing inequality in the income distribution translate into growing inequality in the opportunities for quality education and healthcare.
Dr. John E. Stapleford is director of the Center for Economic Policy and Analysis at the Caesar Rodney Institute.