The Accelerating Decline in America's High-Skilled Workforce: Implications for Immigration Policyby Jacob Funk Kirkegaard
America rose to economic prominence on the shoulders of the most highly skilled workforce in the world. However, during the last 30 years, skill levels in the US workforce have stagnated: Americans aged 25-34 today do not possess higher skills than do their baby boomer parents. So when American baby boomers retire, they will take as many skills with them as their children will bring into the US workforce. While their parents may have been "the brightest kids on the global trading block" when they entered the workforce, Americans entering the workforce today barely make the global top 10. America is no longer a skill-abundant country compared with an increasing share of the rest of the world.
As a result, in the coming decade, America could face broad and substantial skill shortages and will increasingly need foreign high-skilled workers. Meanwhile, as America debates the merits of immigration reform, other rich nations have rapidly revamped their high-skilled immigration systems, making the United States one of many destinations for high-skilled immigrants. For America to regain its leadership in global talent, it must urgently reform its high-skilled immigration programs, particularly the H-1B temporary work visa and legal permanent resident (green card) programs. US policymakers should in the face of accelerating global economic integration make high-skilled immigration an essential component of their broader foreign economic policies. The aim must be to ensure a continuous inflow of required high-skilled workers to the United States in a manner that enjoys broad domestic political support.
About the Author:
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard has been a research associate atthe Peterson Institute
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