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Schools, Skills, and Economic Growth

Eric Hanushek is an expert on the relationship between education and economics, and he says the only thing that matters for a country is the skills of its people.

“Countries that have lots of skills grow faster than countries that have low skills, and that’s an easy way to explain what’s going on in Africa and Latin America, where the skills are very low, and the countries are just not growing in the long run.” 

Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. In this podcast, he says the methods used for testing skills have been around for decades.

“What we’ve had for the last 50 years is a set of international tests of skills in math and science. So you take a math problem and walk it around the world and see how different countries do.”

So how does the United States fare in these tests?

“The US comes in about 30th in the world of those countries taking these tests,” says Hanushek. “That puts it in the lower half of developed countries, and presents quite a challenge.”

People who used to have a good middle-class income with a high school education are in trouble, Hanushek says. The manufacturing industries that offered good jobs for those who could use a wrench or swing a hammer are long gone. Hanushek believes the future is bleak for anyone who is not well prepared for the changing job market.

“My answer in the long run is we deal with it by improving the quality of our schools, and giving skills to people, and allowing them to be ready for a changing world in the future.”