When Sen. Marco Rubio said at Tuesday’s debate that “welders make more money than philosophers” and that “we need more welders and less philosophers” the crowd went wild. The media, however, were quick to pounce on his statement as factually incorrect, with some even pointing out it was grammatically incorrect, too (gasp!).
Critics dug up data from BLS and the website PayScale to compare philosophers to welders and found that the former did in fact make more money than welders by mid-career (they were on par at the start of each career). But putting aside how exactly that’s measured (philosophy majors vs. philosophy professors?) people have completely missed the point Rubio was trying to make.
The big picture here is about the skills gap. There are 40 million Americans with student loan debt, which on a national level has now reached $1.2 trillion. We’ve also got record-high unemployment and millions of jobs no one seems to want, many of which require a skillset, not necessarily a diploma. The virtual elimination of vocational training from schools, which Rubio rightly pointed out has been stigmatized, is not helping matters, either.
The reality is that demand in our society for skilled labor, like welding, is higher than it is for a liberal arts degree like philosophy. And not only that, a trade school takes less time than a traditional university does and is a fraction of the cost. When all is said and done there’s a good case to be made that for some people, going to a trade school is a better choice than going to college. And that is not intended to be a knock on traditional four-year universities or majoring in fields like philosophy (which still hold great potential). It simply means that right now there’s an abundance of college grads who’ve taken on massive student loans to pursue a liberal arts degree that is not the key to a great-paying job upon graduation that it once was. Hence, we’re seeing a multitude of college grads taking on serving/bartending jobs and living at home with mom and dad.
In a fundraising email today Rubio doubled-down on his comment, insisting he was making a serious point.
“Right now, there are millions of jobs across America that are unfilled because workers don't have the right skills to fill them. Lots of them are in fields like welding - which don't require a college degree, but do offer good salaries and require some training,” he wrote.
“We need to stop stigmatizing vocational training and education, and we need to break up an overpriced, outdated higher education system and introduce market forces to make it easier for hard-working Americans to get the skills they need.”
As Mike Rowe is fond of saying, “We’re lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, to educate them for jobs that no longer exist.”
Rubio understands it's well past time we did something about that.