If you watched Tuesday’s GOP debate on Fox Business, you undoubtedly heard Neil Cavuto tell you that things were really, definitely interesting. And they were: each candidate had ample time to lay out broad details of their economic agenda, and an opportunity to show why theirs was superior to the others. Many times, however, the most interesting thing that was said wasn’t a policy issue, but instead anecdotal claims left unchecked by the moderators. In particular, Marco Rubio had some interesting things to say about vocational training.
(Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr)
The heart of his point is not without merit. During the debate, Mr. Rubio expressed concern that “we have stigmatized vocational education.” A valid claim, and one certainly close to the heart of this writer. But he qualified it by saying, “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”
But do they? And do we?
Thank Goodness for Fact Checkers
While he wasn’t corrected on live TV, it didn’t take too long for reporters to jump on Rubio’s claim. According to Politico‘s Maggie Severns and the Wrongometer, the senator didn’t quite nail down the facts on this one.
In fact, we’ve got the data right here! Based on PayScale’s survey data, the median annual salary for welders in the U.S. is $41,259. On the other hand, a philosophy professor – that is, someone who’s earned their PhD in Philosophy and now teaches in postsecondary education – brings in a median salary of $88,460.*
But that’s not totally fair right? Rubio said “philosophers” not “professors.” And how high is the demand for philosophy professors over welders? Well, according to that same data, the overall salary range for a welder is $28,593 – $75,965. And if we define a philosopher as someone who simply their bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, things change as well: common careers include paralegal, network engineer, IT manager, and even executive director. The salary range for Philosophy BAs is then $32,772 – $81,756 for men and $33,291-$71,510 for women. As many Rubio defenders will conclude, however, this does not account for the differences in the cost of a BA versus simply going to trade school to become a welder.
So Was Rubio Wrong?
The tricky part of politics is that pretty much any comment can be interpreted any way anyone wants to interpret it. On the surface, Rubio was flat-out incorrect that welders earn a better salary than “philosophers.” And while he’s right to say that trade school is a viable option that leads to a successful career, he’s wrong to stigmatize the humanities in the process.
* Note: Numbers reflect median salary for professors in all subjects, not just philosophy.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think Marco Rubio was wrong to say what he did? Is this article just the musings of an English major with a chip on his shoulder? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.