The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Boomer Victory: The Young Are Poor and Ignorant

Americans entering the workforce are less educated than those exiting it, according to a new report by the Council on Foreign Relations. Quartz:

 For 55- to 64-year-olds, the US has the highest percentage of high-school graduates and the third-highest percentage of college graduates; in people aged 25 to 34, the country is 10th and 13th respectively.

No other developed country in the world has dropped so many places. To go from first place to tenth place in high school graduation rate in one generation is serious and alarming. The short term effects are unsettling enough: on average, those without a high school degree have the lowest earnings and highest unemployment rate of any demographic. But the long term effects could be even scarier: a society that does a poor job educating its citizens is going to pay the price for decades to come. As a less educated workforce slowly replaces a more educated one, skilled labor decreases and the entire economy suffers:

At its current pace, the US will need to add a little more than 200,000 jobs a month in order to close the “jobs gap” by 2020, according to the Hamilton Project. But as baby boomers (those born in the generation after World War II) continue to leave the workforce, companies are having trouble finding skilled workers to replace them.

Once again, the Boomers have found a way to leave the world worse than they found it. Not only have they saddled their children and grandchildren with massive debt and structurally unsound entitlement programs; they’ve also failed to provide them with the kind of education and career prospects that could provide the capital to solve these problems.

Published on June 19, 2013 9:10 am
  • rheddles

    Wow, another attack on the one group you’re free to hate at VM, boomers. No discussion of the “greatest generation’s” institution of liberal divorce laws, subsidization of bastardy or federalization of education. Inciting intergenerational conflict solves nothing. Truly an unworthy post.

    • Philopoemen

      Your arguments might make sense in a vacuum where the USA is the only country in the world with such policies. This is not the case.

      • rheddles

        Assuming the United States is the same as every other country. This is not the case.

        • Philopoemen

          So the same social policies successfully at play in most every other developed country have been uniquely detrimental to the USA?

          • rheddles

            Youth unemployment is not a problem in most every other developed country dues to their successful social policies. Right.

          • Philopoemen

            I was referring to education, not employment. Employment is too globalized nowadays to place full blame on a particular state’s government.

          • rheddles

            But not a particular generation.

          • Kavanna

            The problem is rampant across the developed world. It’s just more obnoxious here, because the Boomers are always preening themselves on their devotion to “social justice.” This worn-out phrase means something like, saddle the next couple of generations with debts that can’t be repaid, undermine their education, and destroy their job prospects.

            And I’m a boomer, as is WRM. We’ve been watching our generation for a long time. We know what they’re really about.

          • rheddles

            One could as easily say it is rampant here because of our subsidized underclass. I too am a boomer and not part of the elect elite, like WRM. I’ll not say boomers are without fault, but neither will I say they are a homogeneous monolith.

            I suggest a fair amount of the blame lies with the preceding generations that designed and implemented the much derided blue model. Those preceding generations also selected the boomers who now constitute the elite which pursues those policies to absurdity.

            To lay all the blame at the feet of the boomers is to misunderstand the problem and make its solution more difficult.

          • Corlyss

            Well, the western world and Japan uniquely suffer from Boomers. The same psychology afflicts them all.

  • Anthony

    The economics of education remains the real investments in human capital and strengthens America’s domestic foundations – sustainability has no ideology. Moreover, WRM I am not sure issue breaks down to Boomers’ civil legacy as much as critical juncture in American social arrangements (i.e., Blue Model transition, creative destruction of capitalism, disintermediation, competence and equality gaps in K-12 education, etc.). That is, issue is not uniformly a Boomer legacy consequence; education is not bound by an exclusion principle. Public policy educationally, to ameliorate gaps highlighted in “report”, ought to keep up front the idea that everyone benefits societally from effective education – lower social costs and increased wealth (via developments of five elements that sustain capitalism: resources, innovation, technology, capital, and labor. The aforementioned public policy responsibility obligates commonweal not just one generation.

  • Stacy Garvey

    A larger proportion of young people today are from the underclass. Their born in poverty to single parent households. No mystery here.

    • Corlyss

      “A larger proportion of young people today are from the underclass.”
      There’s more nuance to it than “underclass”, “poverty,” and “single parent households.”
      Using Charles Murray’s terminology, it would be the spread of the pathologies of the underclass to the middle class. The pathologies happily migrate to anyone who adopts the characteristics. Boomers are classic profligates, savings being a despised artifact of their bourgeois parents. Group rights and identity politics: two more gifts of the loathsome postwar generation.

  • Soren Kay

    Sorry WRM, don’t blame the Baby Boomers for the Immigration Act of 1965.

    “To go from first place to tenth place in high school graduation rate in one generation is serious and alarming”

    What is seriously alarming is that immigration is not mentioned… the idea that this is a education system problem is part of the problem. Elites promote anarcho-tyranny via immigration to empower their own bureaucracies.

    ” But the long term effects could be even scarier: a society that does a poor job educating its citizens is going to pay the price for decades to come.”

    The American education system is doing fine… if you look at PISA we do better educating asians here than they do in asia, whites better than they do in europe, hispanics better than they do in latin america, and blacks better than they do in africa.

    It is absolutely maddening that the ideologies with human resource departments somehow believe that a human resource department isn’t needed for a nation.

    • Corlyss

      I suggest that you are too lenient on Boomers when it comes to the ’65 immigration act. Boomer rabid activism, unruliness, lawlessness, and iconoclasm tainted everything beginning with the civil rights movement that culminated in the March on Washington, the debacles at the ’64 and ’68 Democratic conventions, the ’64 Free Speech movement, and the running anti-war battles. It cast a pall over all large-scale legislation aimed at “social justice.” I am a Boomer by time, but psychologically closer to the beliefs and values of the Greatest Generation. Perhaps 100 years from now some historian can write a well-researched study on how the Greatest Generation could have produced the Worst Generation in a century.

      • rheddles

        When did the baby boom begin?1942? To blame the boomers for the social unrest in the early sixties is ludicrous. They were still in high school. Most of these early sixties out of door political activities were the result of Silent generation activists. Mario Savio was not a boomer. Nor was Tom Hayden, nor Abby Hoffman, nor Jerry Rubin, nor Rennie Davis, nor Bobby Seal, nor Huey Newton. The ‘greatest generation” which was in control in the early sixties did not stop the silents. Given the breakdown of authority it is no surprise that the boomers carried on the fun the Silents had started.

        • Corlyss

          Dates for the Boomer class vary depending on who you cite. Some start it earlier, but the classic date is 1946.

          You underestimate their influence I think because you’re looking only at voting population. True, they couldn’t vote, and 18 year olds weren’t given the vote until the end of the 60s, but their influence has been pushing on stage from the wings since 1945 because people could see the population bow wave coming. I’ve been listening to Radio Classics on XM Radio a lot lately. One of the perks is antique ads, both commercial and public service. Folks were ramping up for Boomer impact on the schools. As the civil rights movement got underway in the 1950s, and these kids became politically aware, politicians took note. You can dismiss it because they were “too young” or couldn’t vote, but I don’t. Non Boomers might have started movements, like the late Mario Savio, and the civil rights activists that created the Freedom Riders and the Sit-ins, but they all rely on the numbers of liberalized youth produced by the Greatest Generation.

      • Happycrow

        Ha. Boomers would LOVE to take credit for ’64 and ’68.
        But since many of them were sitting in the living room watching CARTOONS at the time (come on, seriously: the average boomer was somewhere between 9 and 13 at the time), I don’t think either credit or blame can be laid at their feet here.

        • Corlyss

          Fine. You don’t have to take my word for it. See my response to Rheddles above. I’m a classic Boomer born in 1946. I was 18 when the 1964 Dem convention blew up in their faces over seating the Mississippi delegation, starting a generational civil war within the Dem party that lasted until the 1970s. Boomers my age and younger were educating and training Freedom Riders and civil rights demonstrators and putting their bodies on the line against Southern segregation.

          I refer you to the following article for your reading pleasure:

          http://www.americanheritage.com/content/democratic-debacle

  • wigwag

    “Once again, the Boomers have found a way to leave the world worse than they found it.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Engaging in hyperbole is usually a sign of a weak argument; and a weak argument is precisely what Professor Mead provides his readers with this post.

    In 1970 when the boomers began to hit adulthood, nominal GDP in the United States was very slightly more than $1 trillion; in 2012, it had grown to $15.7 trillion. If you prefer to look at nominal GDP per capita, in 1970, it was $5,063; in 2012 it was $49,928. Measured by real GDP and real GDP per capita, the increases are also dramatic.

    In 1968, a segregationist George Wallace, had just concluded a presidential run; in 2008, the country elected an African American President.

    In 1970, breast cancer and prostate cancer were virtual death sentences; in 2013 hundreds of thousands of people have been cured of these diseases and live normal lives.

    In 1970, children with autism, Down’s Syndrome and other developmental disorders were typically warehoused in the dirtiest, most violent and most frightening institutions; in 2012, these children are entitled under federal law to an appropriate education and early intervention services no matter what the cost. As a result we are beginning to see children whom were once treated as garbage by society graduate from high school and live far more enriched lives.

    The news flash for the staff of Via Meadia is that regardless of the many mistakes they have made, the boomers are leaving the United States a far more prosperous and generous place than they found it.

    And by the way, all of those entitlement programs that Professor Meads laments at every opportunity; the were created by the “Greatest Generation,” not the “boomers.” Is it too much to ask that Via Meadia at least get its facts straight?

    • jeburke

      Ditto that

    • Corlyss

      “In 1970 when the boomers began to hit adulthood,”
      Wag,
      You’re at least 8 years too late in discerning their influence.

  • ljgude

    I was born in ’42 and started in a two room schoolhouse in New Hampshire and got into and out of Columbia. Yes, with a degree. My grandson just graduated high school in California and intends to go to Community College with computer skills the goal.Over the weekend my son taught him how to do a weekly web editing task for which he can pay him the $160 a month he has been paying an overseas contractor. I don’t think blaming baby boomers gets us anywhere. Collectively we have been watering down education steadily across generations. Evidently from these stats fewer people have been completing various tiers of education lower while the quality of the education has been dropping too. (That be double bad in ebonics.) Compare Charles and Mary Beard’s 1920s high school American History text to Howard Zinn’s. The former is an original work of history still capable of surprising and informing and even includes the achievements of women thanks to Mrs Beard. The latter is a work of post colonial indoctrination intended to give American youth a negative view of Western civilization in general and the US in particular. Yes, my grandson had to use Zinn as a textbook. Paul Simon referred to “all the crap I learned in High School” in his Album Kodachrome many years ago. I think we have known about the state of education for some time, but like to publically pretend otherwise. I suspect the solution may be radical disintermediation – parents making sure their kids get the skills they need any way they can – largely by using the internet and introducing kids to real work that is worth money as young as possible. Much as I was on the farm by milking cows morning and night before and after attending that two room schoolhouse. Tip: if you separate children from the real world for their first 20 years or so they may never recognize in their entire lives.

  • Buckland

    I don’t read it that way.

    The report is comparing Boomer education as of today with younger people education as of today. The Boomers have had 3 decades or so since becoming adults to burnish credentials. that haven’t happened to young people.

    A better comparison would be to look at today’s young people against a chart of Boomer education in, say, 1983. I’m guessing they’d look more similar, and indeed the Boomers may look less educated.

    Another interpretation of the international numbers is that the US takes continuing education more seriously than other countries. People here continue to earn degrees over the years that just doesn’t happen in other countries.

  • USNK2

    American companies have been downsizing Boomers and replacing us with less qualified workers (at higher salaries) for more than twenty years.
    Evidence available offline!
    Mr. Mead can blame Columbia Teachers College for their pernicious undermining of public education.
    Evidence available offline!

  • David Boutilier

    “Once again…” is once too many. Tuning out.

  • Chris Huston

    What percentage of this new generation cited are from Mexico who came where with 4th or 5th grade eductions? I would think this skews the sample a bit. This stat is the result of what happens when you import poverty from other countries….all your wonderful rankings in categories like education, health care, infant mortality, etc., go down and people are able to rip you for being a declining country.

  • NoNewt

    WRM, this is pretty clearly an immigration issue. There are over 20 million low-skilled migrants from Mexico and Central America in the US. That’s 1/7 of the workforce – and guess which cohort they’re part of (hint: the younger one, not the older one). One can then, therefore, begin to see which cohort is collectively less educated as a result (see above hint).

    The fact is that America’s immigration policy (or at least our de facto policy) is hugely geared toward the low-skilled and uneducated (50,000 H1-B visas, the main vehicle for educated immigrants, out of 1-2 million immigrants per year). This is a problem, and it results in, among other things, an overall less-educted, less-skilled and, obviously, less-affluent population.

    I would be OK with that if it were a temporary phase. However, the Gang of Eight bill would perpetuate the huge favoritism toward the low-skilled and uneducated – Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office (the only source of any estimates on how many, and what type, of immigrants would be coming as part of the Gang of Eight bill) estimates 30-60 million immigrants in the next 10 years, of which a mere 5 million (8-16%) would be skilled (i.e., have a college education).

    Anyone who is worried about the education and quality of the American workforce – and, indeed, of America in general – should be out on the barricades, protesting the Gang of Eight bill and pushing for a Canada/Australia-style approach that focuses on high-skilled and educated immigrants.

    Our politicians aren’t doing that, they aren’t feeling pressure to do that (no “La Raza” / “The Race” for engineers out there), and they’re going to curse us with an progressively less-educated, less-skilled, and less-wealthy population. Decline is a choice.