Education, training crucial to economy

A new study on the education level of young people is a depressing sign of the times. It's also an indication of big problems ahead for the United States if things don't change.

Young Americans now are the first generation in U.S. history to be less educated than the previous generation. No joke.

According to a study by the National Commission on Adult Literacy, the United States is the only nation among 30 free-market democracies where a lower percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds have received high school diplomas than 45- to 54-year-olds. More than 1.2 million young adults – one in three – drop out of school each year.

We in North Carolina can't be too surprised. North Carolina's dropout rate is abysmal. More than 23,000 N.C. students dropped out in 2006-07, a 4 percent increase over the year before. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools stood out as a trouble spot. More than 10 percent of the N.C. dropouts – 2,512 students – were from CMS.

This is especially troubling, given the lagging U.S. economy and the higher level of skills needed for the jobs in today's global marketplace. More than half the U.S. workforce lacks the education and skills needed for those jobs, according to the study. About 90 million didn't graduate from high school or attend college, couldn't speak English adequately, or had no access to training in special skills.

It's those kinds of statistics that led the literacy commission, an independent, nonpartisan panel, to urge Congress and states to set aside more money for adult education and training. The panel, a group of labor and business leader, say annual spending on adult education and training needs to increase to about five times the level it is now under existing programs.

Last month, the nation's jobless rate increased to 5.5 percent from 5 percent, the biggest jump in more than two decades. Spending on better education and training programs is badly needed to help them.

We should be embarrassed that a country as rich as ours in opportunities and in resources has so many citizens lacking in basic needs and in the ability to improve their condition. Lawmakers and the rest of us must do something now to provide more education and training programs – and more access to them.

It's nothing to be proud of to document the first generation in U.S. history to be less educated than the generation before. Their failure to achieve will hurt all of us in the future.