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

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

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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