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Manufacturing helped post World War II income growth

Published: May 3, 2013

I'm a veteran of World War II and a beneficiary of the legislation commonly known as the G.I. Bill. University of Oklahoma President David Boren (Point of View, April 26) asserted that it was this bill that accounted for the growth of family income in the two decades following World War II. However, Boren misses the main reason for the growth.

At the end of the war, with worldwide demand very high, the United States was the only manufacturing base in the world that hadn't been destroyed or severely damaged by the conflict. Strong unions, representing millions of American low- to medium-skilled workers needed at that time in those industries, negotiated favorable contracts for these workers, who produced significantly similar growth in family income for all levels of wage earners from 1947 through roughly 1970. In the first half of the 1950s, average hourly earnings for steelworkers increased about four times faster than the cost of living.

Globalization and foreign competition began in the late 1960s. Foreign wages for low- to medium-skilled workers put pressure on American wages. From the 1970s onward, family income growth for those in 20th and 50th percentiles slowed noticeably while the income for those in the 95th percentile continued to increase at a rate close to the pre-1970 level.

Arguably, the G.I. Bill, by providing opportunities for developing skills needed in the last half of the 20th century, had a greater impact on the family incomes of some portions of our population in the last two decades of the 20th century than it did in the 20 years after World War II.

James A. Brown, Norman