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EDUCATION AT A GLANCE: U.S. High School Dropouts “Hit Hardest” by the Economic Recession, New OECD Report Finds

"Leaving school with good qualifications is more essential than ever," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

Released on June 27 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Education at a Glance 2013 includes data showing how the United States ranks internationally in several key areas, including high school graduation rates, the percentage of individuals with a college degree, early education enrollment rates, teacher salaries, and more. This year’s edition also offers a snapshot showing how individuals with different levels of education fared during the worst economic crisis seen in decades.

According to the report, unemployment rates for individuals without an upper secondary education (an average of 13 percent across OECD countries) are nearly three times higher than those of individuals who have a tertiary education (i.e., postsecondary education) (5 percent). In the United States, people without an upper secondary education (i.e., high school degree) were “hit hardest” by the recession, the report notes. Between 2008 and 2011, the unemployment rate for individuals without an upper secondary education increased by more than 6 percentage points, reaching a high of 16.2 percent in 2011. Across OECD countries, the unemployment rate increased by slightly less than 4 percentage points to 12.6 percent during the same time period.

Among U.S. adults with a tertiary degree, the unemployment rate increased by only 2.5 percentage points to 4.9 percent. Across OECD countries, the equivalents were an increase of 1.5 percentage points to 4.8 percent.

Individuals in the United States with a tertiary education also command an earnings premium-among the highest in the world-over their counterparts with only an upper secondary education. In 2000, tertiary-educated individuals aged twenty-five to sixty-four earned 76 percent more than their counterparts with an upper secondary education. In 2011, the earnings premium had increased to 77 percent in the United States, compared to the OECD average of 64 percent. “The relative earnings premium for those with a tertiary education increased in most OECD countries over the past ten years, indicating that the demand for more educated individuals still exceeds supply,” the report notes.

“Leaving school with good qualifications is more essential than ever,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Countries must focus efforts on helping young people, especially the less well-educated who are most at risk of being trapped in a low-skills, low-wage future. Priorities include reducing school dropout rates and investing in skills-oriented education that integrates the worlds of learning and work. Though the focus should remain on quality of spending, governments must ensure that investment in education does not fall as a result of the crisis.”

In 2011, approximately 42 percent of American adults aged twenty-five to sixty-four had a tertiary degree, ranking the United States fifth behind Canada (51 percent), Israel (46 percent), Japan (46 percent), and the Russian Federation (53 percent), according to the Education at a Glance 2013, released on June 27 by the OECD. Among young adults aged twenty-five to thirty-four, however, the United States (43 percent) ranks twelfth out of the thirty-seven nations included in the report, as shown in the graph below.

edu at a glance




The same trend is present with upper secondary education. When ranked by the percentage of individuals aged twenty-five to sixty-four with at east an upper secondary education, the United States (89 percent) ranks in a tie for third with Canada, Estonia, and Poland, trailing only the Czech Republic (92 percent) and the Slovak Republic (91 percent). But, as shown in the table to the right, the United States (89 percent) ranks in a tie for tenth when the same measure is applied to individuals aged twenty-five to thirty-four.

At both the tertiary and upper secondary levels, the lower rankings for younger individuals are not because the U.S. performance has slipped; it is because other countries have passed it.

The United States also trailed its international counterparts in early childhood education, with only half of U.S. children enrolled in early childhood education at age three, compared to an average of 68 percent among OECD countries. In some countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden, more than 90 percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education. At age four, 78 percent of U.S. children were enrolled in early childhood education compared to the OECD average of 85 percent.

In its analysis of teacher salaries, the report finds that the average teacher salary increased between 17 percent and 20 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2011; in the United States, the increase was only 3 percent. The report also finds that the salaries of U.S. teachers are “not competitive” with the salaries of similarly educated workers. On average, a U.S. primary school teacher can expect to earn only 66 percent of the salary of the average tertiary-educated worker in another field, which is lower than the international average of 82 percent. The same is true for an upper secondary school teacher, who can expect to earn 70 percent of what his/her similarly educated peer earns in a different field, compared to the international average of 89 percent. “These relatively low wages may make it difficult to attract the best candidates to the teaching profession,” the report notes.

A summary of findings for the United States is available at

The full report, which includes the complete international rankings, is available at–FINAL%2020%20June%202013.pdf.

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