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WILL THE FUTURE U.S. ECONOMY THRIVE OR JUST SURVIVE?: New Report Calls on the Nation to Develop a Skilled Workforce to Keep Country Competitive

“A skilled workforce is at the heart of the country’s economy and will determine our future growth."

To ensure that the United States will remain a dominant force in the global economy, the nation needs to develop an agenda to equip Americans with the skills necessary to be competitive, so says the Council on Competitiveness in its recent report Thrive: The Skills Imperative.

“A skilled workforce is at the heart of the country’s economy and will determine our future growth,” said Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who withSenator Richard Lugar (R-IN), cosponsored the April 30 Congressional briefing on the report. “Strengthening our workers’ skills is critical to creating good-paying jobs here at home and thriving in a global economy.”

The report describes demographic trends that suggest that the United States’ economic output will decrease unless changes are made. But it also details the critical skills and strategies that can and should be implemented to reverse the troubling trends and points out that a major reason for the strength of the U.S. economy over much of the twentieth century was the workforce’s continual increase in educational attainment. “[I]n every successive generation, the workers entering the labor force were more educated than those they replaced,” the report reads.

But growth in this area has started to stagnate. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of workers with a more than a high school education increased 19 percent; however, growth of only 4 percent is expected between 2000 and 2020. The report speculates that this reduced growth will be due to “a mismatch between the demand for higher skills and the supply of skilled workers.”

Moreover, as a result of technological advances that allow business to be conducted and information to be distributed quickly almost anywhere on the globe, even high-skilled jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. As such, Alan Blinder, an economist from Princeton University, says that “the offshorability factor should play a role in determining what kinds of skills to cultivate for national competitive advantage.”

Thrive sees a solution in increasing training for middle-skilled jobs. More openings are expected to fall into this area—40 to 45 percent—than the low-skilled (22 percent) and high-skilled categories (about 33 percent). Middle-skilled occupations, such as technicians, sales representatives, and teachers, are also projected to grow at a higher rate than high-skilled jobs: 12.7 percent versus 7.8 percent. The report posits that as baby boomers retire, the jobs left unfilled will likely be ones “that do not offshore easily” and “that require postsecondary education and training, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.” Many of these jobs, says the report, pay about as well as those requiring a bachelor’s.

The report also calls for the United States to develop its service economy skills. Thrive says that three quarters of U.S. jobs are service-oriented; workers whose jobs fit this category include doctors, lawyers, office employees, and plumbers. “The time has passed to abandon the misguided stereotypes and focus on the skills for the knowledge-intensive service economy,” the report reads. “Industry, academia, and governments have begun to support multidisciplinary curricula, training programs, and research agendas around service science—but much more needs to be done.”

The nation must also continue to be active in research and development. In recent years, other countries have closed in on the United States; its share of the world’s scientists and engineers is expected to decrease from 40 percent in 1975 to 40 percent in 2010.

For more of the Council on Competitiveness’s suggestions for strengthening America’s workforce, download the report at

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