Testing Ourselves into Equality?

ETS has issued a report, dramatically entitled America’s Perfect Storm , in which they argue that the convergence of

  • substantial disparities in skill levels (reading and math)
  • seismic economic changes (widening wage gaps)
  • sweeping demographic shifts (less education, lower skills)

means that decent jobs and livable wages will disappear unless we “act now”.

Within the report, we read that “college labor market clusters” will account for 46% of the job growth in the next 7 years.

We read also of “increasing economic returns” for people with education and skills, evidenced by the widening gap between wages earned by high school and college educated workers.

I find it interesting that a data-driven organization like ETS has played this loose with labor market data.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we find that in terms of actual number of jobs being created, only five of the 30 fast growing jobs require college degrees. ETS is apparently using data on “‘fastest growing occupations“.

Yet if I’m a working-class 17 year old weighing the decision to go deeply in debt to go to college, I don’t care if there is 54.6% growth in jobs in data communication analysis, a relatively small occupational sector, when there are five times more actual, real jobs being created in retail sales.

As for the “rising economic returns” for college degrees, it’s quite easy to find data confirming that the gap between wages in high school level and college level jobs is attributable in part to sharp declines in the earning power of high school graduates, not “increasing economic returns” for college degrees.

The report does not address the rising costs of attending college, the declining state support for higher education, the wage gaps created by significant raises in corporate salaries, the outsourcing of family wage jobs.

Instead, they blame the “perfect storm” on poor kids who stubbornly refuse to learn enough to position themselves for those hot new high-tech jobs and on new immigrants.

The authors of the report do concede — in a paragraph at the end of the report — that the educational system alone can’t be blamed for the impending storm, that such things as the health care system, fiscal and monetary policies, and the regulatory environment matter too, but “in the end” it come down to education.

The report makes no specific policy recommendations. I’ll be watching for ETS’s next report, in which they will perhaps explain how their testing services will be part of stemming the storm.

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