The Wall Street Journal reports on a new analysis of problem solving skills.
A new report finds U.S. workers rank dead last among 18 industrial countries when it comes to “problem solving in technology-rich environments,” or using digital technology to evaluate information and perform practical tasks. The consequences of that emerging competitive disadvantage is energizing the volatile undercurrent of this year’s presidential race, some observers say.
If the problem-solving deficit is bad, the reasons for it may be worse, said Stephen Provasnik, the U.S. technical adviser for the International Assessment for Adult Competency: flagging literacy and numeracy skills, which are the fundamental tools needed to score well on the survey.
[…]The results build off a global survey conducted in 2012 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. To better compare the skills of younger and older adults and the unemployed, researchers did additional surveys in 2014. The countries that scored the highest on the problem-solving with technology criteria were Japan, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Poland scored second to last, just above the U.S.
One stark revelation is that about four-fifths of unemployed Americans cannot figure out a rudimentary problem in which they have to spot an error when data is transferred from a two-column spreadsheet to a bar graph. And Americans are far less adept at dealing with numbers than the average of their global peers.
Why is that a problem? It’s a problem because the best jobs all require proficiency in math.
Consider these starting salaries and mid-career salaries for various majors:
The common denominator in all these degrees is mathematics, which is out of favor with many Americans. But clearly learning math would enable them to get the highest paying jobs – private sector STEM jobs. So why aren’t they learning math?
People drop math because it’s too hard
People who drop math typically do so because they want to focus on other things that are less difficult. Most of them just want to have fun… sometimes with watching TV all day, sometimes with premarital sex, sometimes with alcohol and drugs. Families break down as women choose hot, irresponsible men and have babies with them out of wedlock. And those kids learn less than their parents knew. There just isn’t any interest in much of America about learning hard things like math, so you can get those private sector STEM jobs that pay well.
Consider this post by Kevin Williamson in National Review magazine:
The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.
If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.
Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
David French, who grew up in Kentucky, and then attended Harvard Law School, adds this in National Review:
These are strong words, but they are fundamentally true and important to say. My childhood was different from Kevin’s, but I grew up in Kentucky, live in a rural county in Tennessee, and have seen the challenges of the white working-class first-hand. Simply put, Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin. Obama isn’t walking them into the lawyer’s office to force them to file a bogus disability claim.
For generations, conservatives have rightly railed against deterministic progressive notions that put human choices at the mercy of race, class, history, or economics. Those factors can create additional challenges, but they do not relieve any human being of the moral obligation to do their best.
Yet millions of Americans aren’t doing their best. Indeed, they’re barely trying. As I’ve related before, my church in Kentucky made a determined attempt to reach kids and families that were falling between the cracks, and it was consistently astounding how little effort most parents and their teen children made to improve their lives. If they couldn’t find a job in a few days — or perhaps even as little as a few hours — they’d stop looking. If they got angry at teachers or coaches, they’d drop out of school. If they fought with their wife, they had sex with a neighbor. And always — always — there was a sense of entitlement.
And that’s where disability or other government programs kicked in. They were there, beckoning, giving men and women alternatives to gainful employment. You don’t have to do any work (your disability lawyer does all the heavy lifting), you make money, and you get drugs. At our local regional hospital, it’s become a bitter joke the extent to which the community is hooked on “Xanatab” — the Xanax and Lortab prescriptions that lead to drug dependence.
Of course we should have compassion even as we call on people to do better. I have compassion for kids who often see the worst behavior modeled at home. I have compassion for families facing economic uncertainty. But compassion can’t excuse or enable self-destructive moral failures.
I have compassion for the kids, too. But not for the grown-ups, who seem to think that the world owes them a living even if they avoid learning hard things like math, and behave immorally. But there is no guarantee of success for people who don’t learn math, and who don’t behave morally. And it’s not anyone else’s fault.
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- Where did Rubio, Cruz and Trump stand on amnesty before running for President?
- Trump, eminent domain, a widow’s house, and a limousine parking lot
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- Should evangelical Christians prefer Donald Trump on moral grounds?
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- What are the “New York Values” that Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters admire?
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