Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Friday challenged the Federal Reserve chairman for perpetuating a “false narrative” that higher education is the only way for Americans to achieve higher incomes, and called for further research on the value of apprenticeships and trade education.
At a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, Cortez Masto, a Democrat, questioned Fed Chair Jerome Powell about the wage stagnation affecting college-educated and non-college educated workers.
Powell suggested that the path to increasing wages was to get a college degree.
“I think people with higher education tend to have substantially higher compensation in their jobs,” Powell said. “The value to having a college degree to not having a college degree in terms of lifetime earning is enormous.”
Cortez Masto argued that higher education is not the only way for Americans to achieve higher incomes, calling it a “false narrative.”
“I think people with a high school education can [get] a good job. They may not be destined to go to a college or university, but they can go through an apprenticeship program, they can be that skilled labor that we need in this country,” Cortez Masto said.
Cortez Masto agreed that the low unemployment rate has increased wages in the United States as companies compete for qualified employees, but argued “that should not be the only condition for increasing wages for individuals.”
“These families are working more than one job,” she said. “I think one job should be enough. Don’t you?”
The unemployment rate dropped from 3.9 percent in December to 3.6 percent in May, but wage gains have not reflected an improved economy, according to the July Monetary Policy Report, a semiannually economic update to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Development.
“Despite strong labor market conditions, the available indicators generally suggest that increases in hourly labor compensation have remained moderate,” reads the report.
The report categorizes workers with a college degree and those with a high school degree or less, adding that the former has experienced a quicker recovery. Cortez Masto argued that those categories lacked more detailed data on those who work in trades or through apprenticeships.
“Here’s the problem and concerns I have with these numbers and categories,” said Cortez Masto. “Come to my state of Nevada — high-skilled labor, organized labor. Individuals graduate high school, but they don’t get a college degree. They go through an apprenticeship and learn a skill or a trade, and they are making good money, sometimes better than some of the folks that go to college.”
In Nevada, prominent labor organizations and Gov. Steve Sisolak have advocated for more trade education and apprenticeships in the state.
Sisolak included increased funding for career and technical education in his state budget, calling for an additional 2,000 students to be served.
The Clark County School District has partnered with local labor unions to create apprenticeship programs where students can walk directly out of high school and into skilled trades. The College of Southern Nevada created a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning program for high school juniors.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wage gap in the construction industry is much narrower — women earn 95.7 percent of what men make, with some woman in Nevada working to increase women’s presence in trades.
“What I see in these numbers is not a reflection of the true demographics of who we are as a country,” Cortez Masto said, referring to the Monetary Policy Report.