The United States Is Losing Its Competitive Advantage

4 Reasons the United States Is Falling Behind

chinese students
••• .S. students are slipping behind Chinese students in global test scores.. Photo: David Butow / Kontributor

China Has World's Fastest Supercomputer

Since 2013, China has hosted the world's fastest supercomputer, the National University of Defense Technology's Tianhe-2. It has 109 of these high-performance systems, up from 37 just six months ago. The United States has 200, its lowest level since 1993. These computers are needed to for sophisticated modeling and simulations. (Source: "China Adds Heft as Computing POwer," WSJ, November 17, 2015.)

U.S. Math Skills Are Falling Behind

U.S. students' math skills have remained stagnant since at least 2000. This means they are falling behind many other countries, such as Japan, Poland and Ireland, which have greatly improved. In fact, U.S. test scores are now below the global average. 

The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures how well students around the world do in math scores. It's administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The U.S. scored at 481, below the average of 494. That's well below the scores of the top five, all of which are Asian: Shanghai (613), Singapore (573), Hong Kong (561) South Korea (554) and Japan (536).  In fact, U.S. scores are closer to the bottom six: Sweden (478), Turkey (448), Mexico (413), Brazil (391), Indonesia (375) and Peru (368).

American students also slipped in science (from 20th to 24th), and reading (11th to 21st).

These low scores means U.S. students aren't as prepared to take high-paying computer and engineering jobs, which often go to foreign workers. Ironically, Silicon Valley is America's high tech innovation center. One reason for its success is the cultural diversity of its foreign-born software engineers.

Other companies simply outsource their tech jobs overseas. The result, however, is the same - fewer high paying jobs to American citizens. (Source: WSJ, Students Slip in Global Tests, December 3, 2013)

An economist from the Hoover Institution, Eric A. Hanushek, estimated that the U.S. economy would grow 4.5% more in the next 20 years if our students’ math and science skills were as good as the rest of the world's. This statement would come as a shock to most Americans who believe that our students' skills ARE among the best in the world.

In fact, nearly half of those in a recent Associated Press poll said that American students’ achievement test scores are the same as or better than those of children in other industrialized nations. Furthermore, 90% of them recognized that education helps economic growth.

The truth is shocking. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in a survey of students’ math skills in 30 industrialized countries. Instead of knowing and confronting the facts, most Americans are in denial. In fact, the same survey showed that while one-third believed THEIR schools were excellent, only one-sixth believe the same of any other schools. (Source: WSJ, Americans See Education Benefits, But Don’t Realize U.S. Falling Behind, June 27, 2008)

U.S. Slips in Training Engineers

Since the 1980s, Chinese college enrollment has quadrupled to 20 million. They graduate 200,000 engineers per year, compared to 60,000 in the U.S. (Source: Computer Systems Policy Project).

U.S. Companies Outsource Skilled Jobs to China

China's technology exports total $8 billion, while U.S. technology exports to China are only $1.6 billion. However, China's "exports" are from U.S.companies like Intel, Motorola, Microsoft and Cisco Systems to take advantage of China's technologically trained labor force. Wages for these workers are 88% less in China than in the U.S.

Chinese technology firms are increasing their skills. These companies include semiconductor companies (e.g. Semiconductor Manufacturing International), telecommunication equipment manufacturers (e.g. Huawei, ZTE Corporation) and Internet portals (e.g. Baidu, Alibaba/eBay partnership).

U.S. Slips to #3 in WEF Global Competitiveness Report

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that the U.S. is #3 in its 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report. According to the WEF, a highly competitive country is one that has high productivity. That gives it high prosperity, return on investment, and economic growth. Switzerland retained its #1 status, followed by Singapore at #2. 

The U.S. had been #1 in the 2007-2008 Report and stayed there in 2008-2009 Report. This was due to its innovative companies, excellent university system and strong collaboration between the two in research and development. It had slipped from #1 to #2 in the 2009-2010 Global Competitiveness Report