For decades, the United States has stayed ahead of the talent curve because of the vast number—and high educational levels—of the baby boomers. Since the 1960s, the number of American adults with college degrees has quintupled, and with each retirement wave, older workers have been replaced by younger workers who are better educated.
But who will replace the baby boomers? The replacement pool, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1977, and Generation Y, born between 1978 and 1990, isn’t big enough to replace every retiree. The growth in the American labor force is likely to come from immigrants, not from home-grown workers.
Educational gains are slowing down as well. Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of workers with a college degree grew from 21 percent to 30 percent. But recent estimates say it is likely to rise to only 33 percent by 2020.
from the Pew Center on the States
I’m not certain that I completely agree with some of the conclusions suggested by this introduction to the Pew Center’s fantastic new site for educational statistics. We may be, for example, on the verge of an huge increase in productivity, especially in the developing world, that will change everything about this notion of having enough children to replenish the current workforce.
I have a kind of Utopian wish/dream, too, that people in the first world will begin to resist many of the assumptions on which the current economic system rests. How much longer, for example, will people accept the 40 hour work week, now nearly a century old. All of these numbers change dramatically if the work week changes to, say, 30 hours.
What’s also amazing to remember is that more than 2/3’s of the people in the U.S. do not have a college degree. We’ve never quite been as affluent as we like to think. Obama’s new economic program relies heavily on educational spending, and, on trying to make a college degree more accessible. I think we might have a very different culture if we were to reach 50% or higher.