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fact, the slowdown in growth among workers with some college exceeds the slowdown among workers with a bachelor’s degree or more

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Less than High School Diploma High School Diploma Some College BA or Higher

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1980 – 2000

2000- 2020

Source: Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Projections and Training Data, February 2006; and Aspen Institute, Growing Together or Growing Apart, 2003.

This slowdown might not fully materialize, especially if more educated workers choose to retire later (perhaps motivated by their improved health and meager savings), if more young people or adults choose to attend college or participate in long-term training, or if more highly educated immigrants enter the United States (perhaps due to changing immigration laws). But some slowdown in educational growth is almost certain to occur.

Furthermore, if some of these changes alter the educational trends, the changes are more likely to shrink the pool of skilled labor in the middle than at the top of the education ladder Delays in retirement are more likely among the most educated (BA and above) than among those with some college or postsecondary training but less than a BA. Middle-skill workers who have worked in physically demanding blue-collar jobs are especially unlikely to delay retirement. And, as George Borjas of Harvard notes, immigration disproportionately increases the work force at the top and bottom of the education distribution.

Another consideration is that educational attainment patterns may understate skill mismatches because of the limited numbers who qualify for specific occupations in high demand. Openings for registered nurses, for example, are expected to jump dramatically over the next 10 to 15 years. Having enough workers with general education at the BA or sub-BA level will do little to meet the increasing demand for nurses unless enough workers obtain the relevant occupational qualifications. Without initiatives to better link the emerging occupational requirements with the education and training obtained by current and future workers, employers will have to import workersor alter their production strategy in ways that may eliminate potentially good jobs.

Some labor market analysts predict that labor markets in the United States at all levels will be fairly slack in the coming decades, as workers in China, India and elsewhere increasingly compete with American workers. This conclusion might be true for some fields. But many of the jobs we identify—in sectors such as health care, construction, public safety and law enforcement—cannot be offshored and often cannot be filled by less-educated immigrant workers. And, given the specific nature of the skills these jobs require, middle-skill occupations will continue to provide well-paying jobs for the workers who fill them—even if the broader labor markets around them are sluggish.

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