Educators, Employers Face Declining Literacy Rates
> 2/6/2007 10:53:02 AM

Due to several independent factors including generational shifts and the increasing prevalence of low-to-mid-level employees who are foreign to the American education system, the United States' workforce will be considerably less literate in twenty-five years, according to a new report from the Educational Testing Service. If the U.S. plans to retain its leading role in the world economy, these issues must be addressed without delay.

Sociology experts and government officials believe that the trend is likely to accelerate without major changes in the public education system. One of our largest challenges is to aggressively address the increasing influx of immigrant workers who, while not necessarily uneducated, have little experience speaking English and maneuvering through the American working world. In a 2002 study of 19 high-income countries, the United States ranked 16th in a survey measuring the relative literacy of foreign-born workers. Our native population is also less educated than previous generations, and estimates state that, for the first time in our history, today's children will end up with lower standards of living than those of their parents. The same study, highlighting the importance of a post-secondary education, notes that literacy levels for U.S. citizens with a bachelor's degree or higher ranked 5th among the countries included in the study, whereas the scores of those with only a high school diploma or GED tied for 18th. Our high school graduation rate is a sad 70 percent, leaving a large swath of the population unready for demanding positions in the rapidly changing fields of new media, finance, and management. Retirement planning, career maintenance and health care concerns are major issues for every citizen, and they are not getting any less demanding. But according to the new report:

Half of adults lack the reading and math skills to use these systems effectively and, therefore, will face challenges fulfilling their roles as parents, citizens and workers.

Though America, idealized as the land of equal opportunity for those looking to capitalize on economic opportunity, welcomes hard-working immigrants as an essential (and steadily expanding) segment of our workforce, the fact is that:

34 percent of new immigrants arrive without a high school diploma, and of those, 80 percent cannot speak English well, if at all.

All signs point to the worrisome fact that, unless we enact wide-reaching revisions as quickly as possible, American workers will continue to fall behind their international counterparts, leading to potentially disastrous declines in the competitive efficiency of our economy. While certain statistics show consistent, if tentative, growth for the American economy, these trends may not apply the many of the middle-and-lower class earners who make up the bulk of our workforce. While experts and amateurs undoubtedly hold countless disparate opinions on the most efficient ways to jumpstart reform initiatives, specific policy projections have yet to be outlined. Until a workable solution is presented to the public, we have no reason to believe that these problems will be resolved or even addressed with any sense of cooperative urgency. Each year characterized by such official inaction brings us closer to irrelevance in the international economic sphere.

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