[Paleopsych] VDARE: Ed Rubenstein: The Stupid American? Look again.
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Ed Rubenstein: The Stupid American? Look again.
Edwin S. Rubenstein Archive
December 22, 2005
National Data, By Edwin S. Rubenstein
Psssst: Have you heard? We've lost our competitive edge.
Historically the U.S. economy excelled because of the skills and smarts of our
workers. But no longer. America's workforce increasingly lags that of other
countries in math and literacy skills. We need their brainpower!
At first glance, this assertion seems plausible. Math literacy scores for
15-year old students in the U.S. ranked in the lower half of 41 countries
studied in 2003. [ECONOMIC IMPACT: Education statistics don't bode well for
our future, By Chris Chmura, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dec 19, 2005]
U.S. adults ranked 12^th among 20 high income countries in composite (document,
prose, and quantitative) literacy, according to a separate report released by
the Educational Testing Service.
A staggering 45 percent of adult Americans cannot read or write at the high
school graduate level--and nearly half of those (20 percent) scored at a
literacy level below that of a high school dropout. [Educational Testing
Service, "The Twin Challenges of Mediocrity and Inequality," February 2002]
International rankings can be misleading, however--especially when many of the
countries are small and exhibit little variation in average test scores. Thus,
despite our mediocre ranking, the mean literacy test score for U.S. adults
(272) was 2 points above the mean for all adults in the 20 country survey
The 2 point gap is not statistically significant......but we'll take it.
Larger, statistically significant, literacy gaps between us and them unfold
when you separate immigrant from native-born test takers, as is done in 17
high income countries surveyed by ETS. [Table 1]
bullet U.S. natives scored 8 points above the average native of the 17 high
bullet U.S. immigrants scored 16 points below the average immigrant in the 17
There are several reasons why immigrants exert more of a literacy drag here
First, they account for a larger share of the population. At the time of the
international literacy survey (1994) immigrants accounted for about 13 percent
of U.S. adults, fifth highest proportion among the countries surveyed. Only in
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland did immigrants
account for a larger population share.
Second--and far more important--is the abnormally wide gap between native and
immigrant literacy capabilities in the U.S. Here are the average scores and the
proportions by which natives outscore immigrants:
bullet U.S.: immigrants 210; natives 284; 74 points, or 35 percent
bullet 17 countries: immigrants 226; natives 276; 50 points, or 22 percent
The immigrant-native differential is still larger among high school dropouts--a
group that covers one-third of adult U.S. immigrants and only 13 percent of
bullet U.S.: immigrant dropouts 149; native dropouts 225; 76 points, or 51
bullet 17 countries: immigrant dropouts 177; native dropouts 243; 66 points, or
Needless to say, immigration is not the only factor behind our weak literacy
scores. The literacy gap between native-born whites and Asians and their Black
and Hispanic counterparts ranges from 46 points, or 19 percent, on the prose
and document literacy tests, to 57 points, or 25 percent, on the quantitative
The wide dispersion of capabilities forces the ETS Bureaucracy to state the
politically incorrect, albeit obvious:
"If we adjust the mean NALS scores for U.S. adults under age 65 to exclude all
foreign-born adults as well as native-born Blacks and Hispanics, then the mean
prose and quantitative scores of the remaining U.S. adults (Asian and White,
native-born) would rise to 288, ranking the U.S. second highest--tied with
Finland and Norway--on the prose scale and fifth highest on the quantitative
scale.... The findings clearly suggest that future gains in the comparative,
international literacy standing U.S. adults will require substantial
improvements in the literacy proficiencies of Blacks, Hispanics, and the
foreign born from all racial/ethnic groups." [ETS Report, P.22]
Or we could settle for immigration reform.
Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic
Consultants in Indianapolis.
30. mailto:edwin at esrresearch.com
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