Census data suggests that in 1980 a college graduate could expect to earn about 38 percent more than a worker with only a high-school diploma. Since then, the difference in their wages has only widened as our economy has shifted to bestow greater and greater rewards on the well-educated. By 2000, that number was about 57 percent. By 2011: 73 percent.
These figures, though, reflect only part of the inequality that has pushed the lives of college and high school graduates in America farther apart. As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city. This effectively means that college graduates in America aren’t simply gaining access to higher wages. They’re gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.
“With wage inequality, you could just observe the average wage of a college graduate, and the average wage of a high school graduate,” says Diamond, whose research has gone a step further to calculate what she calls “economic well-being inequality.” “But then on top of that, college graduates also live in the nicest cities in the country. They’re getting more benefits, even net of fact that they’re paying higher housing costs.”
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