NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Slowdown Threatens United States

April 27, 2012

Throughout American history, almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents.  That is no longer true, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists.
  • In contrast, when Americans born in 1980 turned 30 in 2010, they averaged about eight months more schooling than their parents.

This development already has broad ramifications across the U.S. job market:

  • Those with only a high school diploma had an 8 percent unemployment rate in March, roughly double that of college graduates, who had a 4.2 percent unemployment rate.
  • Workers with bachelor's degrees earn 45 percent more in wages on average than those of demographically similar high school graduates.

More serious consequences may be felt in the future.

  • Without better educated Americans, economists say, the United States won't be able to maintain high-wage jobs and rising living standards in a competitive global economy.
  • Increasingly, the goods and services in which the United States has an edge rely more on the minds of American workers than on their muscle.

The reasons American education levels are no longer increasing as they once did are numerous: Despite years of effort, high school dropout rates remain stubbornly high.  College tuition is rising and the prospect of shouldering heavy debt discourages some from enrolling in college or sticking with it.  There is also growing skepticism among some Americans about whether a college degree actually translates into a well-paying job.

While not every college grad does better in the job market, statistics consistently show that, on average, the more educated the worker, the better he or she fares in today's job market.

  • For example, 54 percent of high school graduates over age 25 were working in March, the Labor Department says, while the rest were either looking for work or out of the labor force.
  • Among those with some college, 64 percent were working while 73 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or more were working.

Source: David Wessel and Stephanie Banchero, "Education Slowdown Threatens U.S.," Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2012.

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