Editor’s Note: David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in Illinois. He writes regularly at his blog: How Did We Get Into This Mess? Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
David Perry: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are wrong; philosophy majors make more money than welders
We need an America where both white-collar and blue-collar workers can prosper and earn decent wages
In the GOP presidential debate, Marco Rubio responded to a question about work, wages and college tuition by attacking philosophy majors. He said:
“Here’s the best way to raise wages. Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business, tax reform and regulatory reform, bring our debt under control, fully utilize our energy resources so we can reinvigorate manufacturing, repeal and replace Obamacare, and make higher education faster and easier to access, especially vocational training. For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”
Rubio is hardly the first GOP candidate to snipe at liberal arts degrees. Just a few days ago, Jeb Bush made a similar quip, saying, “Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working [at] a Chick-fil-A.”
Both Rubio and Bush are wrong. Philosophy majors generally make a lot more money than welders. As many in the media remarked, philosophy majors generally make a lot more money than welders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over time, philosophy majors (not just that tiny sliver who become professors) average around $80,000 a year, about twice what welders average.
But this isn’t just about how awesome a philosophy major is. The data on wages and education reveal two things. First, college degrees are a good investment, though we’ve got to address the high cost of tuition and the student debt crisis. Second, welders, and all skilled blue-collar workers, need a raise.
Philosophy is not unique in propelling its majors to financial success. Like my own degree in history, philosophy gives students a key set of analytical and expressive skills that are mandatory for nearly every high-paying career. College graduates do better in the job market not only because some acquire useful skills, but also because employers want employees with the ability to think critically and to adapt to the jobs of tomorrow.