The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Columns

October 14, 2013

Maureen Hayden: Americans outpaced by peers in literacy, math

INDIANAPOLIS — As Congress was descending further into dysfunction last week, this discouraging piece of news emerged: Despite how we Americans insist that we’re the best and brightest people on the globe, the fact is that we’re not.

At least not according to an exhaustive new study that found the skill level of the American labor force, and the generation soon to join it, has fallen dangerously behind its peers around the world.

The study, conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found what many already know: That the low-skilled are more likely than others to be unemployed, have bad health and earn much less money; and also that countries with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality.

Low-skilled? That’s not how we Americans see ourselves. But what the study found is that compared to other advanced nations, too many of our citizens lack the math, literacy and problem-solving skills to better their employment prospects — which has a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and a nation’s economic growth.

The report is based on assessment tests given to 160,000 people, age 16 to 65, in 23 advanced nations. Five thousand Americans were assessed.

The results: Americans rank 16th out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21st out of 23 in math. In an assessment test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. – a land flooded with iPods, iPads, and iPhones — ranked 17th out of 19.

Here’s a grimmer piece of news: When you take a deeper dive into the report, you see that older workers in the U.S., those between 55 and 64, held their own when compared to skills of workers in other industrialized nations. But younger workers in the U.S., and those soon to graduate from high school and college, are being quickly outpaced by their peers around the world.

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