Menus Subscribe Search

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

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

Recent Posts

September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



September 15 • 2:04 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Do Places Make People?

We know that people make places, but does it also work the other way?


September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


Follow us


3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.