Inadequate literary skills, the evolving economy and the ongoing shift in the nation’s demographic profile have converged to form a “perfect storm” that could spell doom for the American middle class, says a new report released by the Educational Testing Service Monday.
“America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future” warns that the convergence of the three trends has serious implications on future generations.
“The perfect storm forebodes the death of the middle class as we know it,” says ETS president and CEO Kurt M. Landgraf. “It is a wake-up call with implications for education, business, policy makers and every parent and child. If we fail to act now on the warnings sounded in this report, the next generation of children will be worse off than their parents for the first time in our country’s history. The American dream could turn into an American tragedy for many.”
According to the report, half of America’s adults lack the literacy skills needed for the 21st century. High school graduation rates have remained stagnant at the 70 percent range since 1995. Graduation rates for the minority population have also remained unchanged at 50 percent. In addition, the United States is not among the world’s leaders in any area of educational attainment.
Irwin S. Kirsch, director of the Center for Global Assessment and co-author of the report, says the restructuring of the U.S. work place will produce a more diverse work force in the next 20 years.
“Half of the U.S. population growth into the next decade is expected to come from new immigrants,” he says. “While immigrants come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of education, we should recognize that 34 percent of new immigrants arrive without a high school diploma, and of those, 80 percent cannot speak English well, if at all.”
According to the ETS report, data over the past 25 years have shown a widening wage and income gap between low- and high-skilled workers. The challenge in the future will not be finding employment, it will be finding employment that provides adequate wages and long-term opportunities.
“Skills make a difference. It is true for men and women as well as for all minority groups,” says Kirsch. “We have to accept the consequences of the perfect storm since more than our economy is at stake.”
Arthur J. Rothkopf, the senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says 90 percent of future jobs will require postsecondary education, and the coin of the realm is technology and education.
“We are in the crisis today and it is growing. But the average American is not aware,” he says.
Rothkopf and Landgraf advocate greater emphasis on English education for immigrants and additional funding for community colleges. ETS plans to issue a white paper later this year after convening a forum of business, government and educational leaders on solutions to the issues raised in the study.
To download the full report, visit www.ets.org/perfectstorm
— By Shilpa Banerji
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