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November 1, 2013

Are Americans Dumb?

A recent study bodes ill for Americans’ education and job skills.

A recent international assessment of the cognitive and technology skills of 5,000 adults between the ages of 15 and 65 in each of 24 countries bodes ill for America’s future competitiveness in the international economy. Administered in 2011 and 2012, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies collected data in multiple languages, in countries with diverse populations, cultures and education. The test measures educational background, workplace experience, use of information technology, and cognitive skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving.

The U.S. landed near the bottom in numeracy and slightly under the middle in literacy – but only because older people raised the average score. Americans did, however, rise above average in one category: the percentage of low-skilled people.

One of the most discouraging findings indicates that the gap between the children of well and poorly educated parents is wide and might be intractable. As adults, children of the latter will lack the skills and knowledge necessary to move out of the cycle of one low-paid job following another. And unlike countries such as Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands where many such people take advantage of continuing education, few low-skilled Americans display the interest to do so.

Economists say a highly skilled workforce is key to economic recovery. But this study shows many American workers will earn less money and be twice as likely to be unemployed for years to come.

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