A report conducted by the OECD and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education entitled Time for the U.S. to Reskill? has found that a staggering 36 million adults in the U.S. are “low-skilled.” That is, they lack the most basic skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving deemed minimally necessary for meaningful employment in a high-tech global economy.
Moreover, one-third of these low-skill workers are immigrants.
What the OECD does not discuss, however, is that many of these immigrants may have entered the U.S. illegally. Thus, they may not be eligible, or may not believe they are eligible, for government-sponsored educational benefits. Moreover, because of their status, illegal immigrants might be afraid to get training in crucial language skills. In addition, English may not be spoken in the home, at work, or in their community, further hindering English language development.
Historically, the low-skill status of immigrants has not been so troubling. In fact, it has been a hallmark of the American immigrant experience for centuries. Whether Irish, German, Polish, Italian, Mexican, Chinese or what have you, new immigrants (legal or not) have historically taken the low-rung, low-skill jobs that more skilled or longstanding Americans no longer felt compelled to take.
Moreover, the children of these immigrants have historically gained access to new skills through America’s free and extensive primary and secondary schools, near-free community colleges and low-cost state universities. Consequently, they accrued far greater skills than their parents did, enabling they and their offspring to move quickly up the American economic ladder.
Unfortunately, this comforting narrative has been interrupted.