Michael Barone

Some bad news for America, not on the political front this time, but on what corporate executives call human resources.

It's from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's report on adult skills, based on 166,000 interviews in 24 economically advanced countries in 2011 and 2012.

The verdict on the United States: "weak in literacy, very poor in numeracy, but only slightly below average in problem-solving in technology-rich environments."

On literacy, just 12 percent of U.S. adults score at the top two levels, significantly lower than the 22 percent in largely monoethnic and culturally cohesive Japan and Finland. American average scores are below those in our Anglosphere cousins Australia, Canada and England and Northern Ireland.

One-sixth of Americans score at the bottom two levels, compared to 5 percent in Japan and Finland.

On numeracy the United States does even worse -- only 8 percent at the top levels and one-third in the lowest.

Americans do better at problem solving in tech-rich environments, which economist Tyler Cowen in his new book "Average Is Over" says will be of great economic value in the future.

One-third of Americans score at the top two levels, while one-third score at the bottom or lack such skills altogether.

That puts us just below the average of the countries tested. Finland, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada are well ahead.

The OECD report finds a wider range of skills in the U.S. than in other countries surveyed. Americans with only high school educations perform worse than their counterparts in all but one other nation.

And the report found that socioeconomic background is more strongly correlated with skills proficiency in this country.

In addition, there is the uncomfortable finding that disproportionate percentages of blacks and Hispanics have low skills.

Fully half of the Americans with the lowest level of literacy are Hispanic (presumably reflecting some immigrants' weak English) and another 20 percent are black.

This is probably true of other groups. In his 2012 book "Coming Apart," Charles Murray showed that the 30 percent of whites with the lowest education and income levels have low rates of family formation, little involvement in voluntary associations and high levels of substance abuse.

Most likely, those of any race or ethnic groups with divorced or single parents, or who are divorced or single parents themselves, tend to lag below national and international averages in literacy and numeracy.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM