Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Minding the Education Gap

• May 18, 2010 • 4:52 PM

The minority education gap, if not addressed, will have a huge impact on the U.S. economy in the future as good-paying jobs increasingly require college degrees.

Americans aren’t exactly making progress in closing the country’s deep education gap. Thirty-two percent of Asians and whites held a bachelor’s degree in 2008, compared to only 15 percent of blacks and Hispanics — a larger disparity than a decade ago.

The widening gap is worrisome on its face, suggesting that a problem district officials have long struggled to solve at the grade-school level extends well into higher education.

Taken in conjunction with a pair of other trends, the picture gets even gloomier, and its impact on the U.S. economy becomes disturbingly clear. Non-whites are expected to outnumber white Americans by 2042, and among the under-18 population in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, they already do.

At the same time, good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree are dwindling, as the country transitions away from manufacturing jobs that once supported the middle class into an ever-more high-tech economy.

Taken together, these trends suggest a mismatch between the future American workforce and the type of work a country must produce to stay competitive in the global economy. Educational disparities are growing at a time when the population of those less likely to be educated is growing, and as the proportion of jobs requiring higher education is growing, too.

Something, in other words, has to give.

“Just like demography generally, these things are so slow and structural, you don’t know they’re happening until they’ve already happened,” said Alan Berube, who contributed to a new Brookings Institution report, the “State of Metropolitan America,” that analyzed many of these trends using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

Renewable energy and green technology may yet yield a next-generation manufacturing sector to supplant the automakers and steel plants of the last century.

“But that’s not to say any of these sectors are going to provide in large number good-paying jobs for people who have only a high school diploma,” Berube said. “The days of those jobs in America being available to people who don’t go get some sort of post-secondary education — those are largely over.”

The U.S. could make a concerted effort, Berube suggests, to foster as many semi-skilled jobs as possible, encouraging the production here of the types of windmills and solar panels highly educated innovators will be designing.

“Rather than think we have to move everybody who doesn’t have a four-year degree over that bar,” he said, “we could work on the availability and opportunity for what people call these middle-skill jobs that demand a certification or an associate’s degree.”

We can only do so much, though, to change the structural direction of the economy. And it would be just as challenging to reverse population-growth trends that are already well under way.

The most effective policy solutions, then, would directly target the education gap itself. It makes sense to tackle that trend if we can’t significantly alter the other two.

Much of the gap in college degree attainment is tied to more frequently discussed education disparities at the K-12 level. But Berube suggests we should also invest more heavily in the higher-education institutions most capable of reaching minority students: not just historically black colleges, but community colleges as well.

If we do nothing to close the gap, we’ll wind up with an economy that matches our less-educated workforce.

“People may be able to buy the things and services that are the output of a skilled workforce,” Berube said. “It’s just that that skilled workforce may be somewhere other than the U.S. That doesn’t help our living standards, and it doesn’t help our trade deficit.”

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

Tags: , ,

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us


Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

Hunger and Low Blood Sugar Can Spur Domestic Quarrels

In an experiment, scientists found a correlation between low blood glucose and higher levels of spousal frustration.

Your Brain Starts Faltering After You Reach Age … 24

Sorry to break it to you, TSwift. At least in terms of cognitive functioning while playing StarCraft 2, you're finished.

Cavemen Were Awesome Parents

Toy hand axes, rock bashing, and special burials indicate that Neanderthals were cooler parents than previously thought, according to a new theory.

Bringing a Therapy Dog Into a Children’s Hospital Might Be a Terrible Idea

Despite the popularity of animal therapy in American pediatric hospitals, a new research review reveals that there's little support for its health benefits.

You Feel Closer to Your Destination Even When You’re Not

Simply moving toward or away from something alters the way you think about it, according to a new study.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014