Jobs now require greater literacy and numeracy

From Bertrand Horwitz, Asheville, NC, US

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Sir, The pioneering spirit that existed in the US years ago with or without the land carrot of the Homestead Act of 1862, or even the use of bikes and wagons in the 1930s to seek employment in other states, has now sharply declined (“The pioneering spirit America would do well to revive”, Gillian Tett, October 21). Apart from the research cited, which considers only interstate, not intrastate, mobility and so captures the metric for Rhode Island but not, say, Texas, an important explanatory variable is overlooked — the growing inequality of the quality of pre-college (K-12) education, especially for the younger, immobile group of potential workers.

Technological change and globalisation now require higher levels of reading ability and numeracy for new jobs at significantly higher wages, making moving outlays for qualified workers a reasonable investment. However, the steady decline of the overall quality of primary and high school education needs to be investigated as a factor explaining why job openings for high wage jobs with sign-on bonuses have gone unfilled for long periods of time.

Current data reveal that only one-third of US eighth grade students (14-year-olds) passed both reading and math tests at grade level. This year’s data from the ACT tests of high school graduates seeking entry to colleges by measuring “college readiness” show that about one-third failed in all four groups tested — reading, English, science and maths — nearly 3 per cent more than 2015. And time series, cross-country exams of the same cohorts reveal the US is gradually falling behind other countries. At the same time, college enrolment is increasing while college subsidies for qualified families have been promised. Can it be that the unemployed coal miners in Appalachia and people in the inner cities do not have the needed educational base even to be retrained for our post-second world war changing world?

Bertrand Horwitz

Asheville, NC, US

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