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America's skills crisis carries lessons for Britain

Date: 10. September 2011
James Plunkett and

This post originally appeared on the New Statesman blog

Yesterday's FT contained one of those ominous stories that only grow in significance over time - the findings of a survey by Nielsen that reveals a huge, looming skills shortage in the US as the baby boomer generation retires.

In the next five years, America's top 100 industrial companies face an average training bill of $100m to fill the gap between these older, retiring workers and the younger, less educated cohort coming through to replace them. It's payday - in a very real sense - for an economy that has long been under-investing in its people. And it's a warning sign to economies like the UK that, when it comes to investing in skills, you can't afford to take your eye off the ball.

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Will we catch the American bug? Donald Hirsch

Date: 9. December 2010
Donald Hirsch and

The American middle-class has been complaining since the 1970s about their stagnating incomes. The economic growth that the country has seen since then has gone mainly to the better off. Households at or below the middle of the income distribution have seen no significant rise in their living standards for a generation.

That certainly can't be said of the UK – yet. Here, living standards have improved considerably for most groups in recent years. However, in the past decade, we have started to look a little more like the US...

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Sophia Parker 1

A lost decade, not a burst bubble, by Sophia Parker

Date: 6. December 2010
Sophia Parker and

From time to time we’ll be posting pieces from the USA and elsewhere to gain international insights on the plight of low-to-middle earners. Here Sophia Parker, a Research Associate of the Foundation, sets out the growing crisis facing low-and-middle income America and considers what it means for the Obama administration.

“The problem”, declares American academic Joan C. Williams, “is that Obama eats arugula.” For Williams, the President’s major problem is that his choice of food is a ‘class act’ – a kind of cultural symbol that associates him with a professional class and an urban elite who are disliked, resented and mistrusted by ‘ordinary folk’.

The culture gap is certainly part of Obama’s problem and it will make it harder for him to reach out to the hard working Americans whose support he will badly need in 2012. But if he has any hope of bridging this culture gap, he will need to make some serious progress in tackling the dramatic economic gap that has opened up between professionals and the ‘missing middle’ in recent years...

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