OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2012
OECD, June 26, 2012
Particularly worrying is the performance in education, which is essential to provide workers with the skills necessary to become more productive and to adapt to technological change. Attainment in tertiary education stagnated over the past three decades while it grew significantly in almost every other OECD country. Today, 22 out of 30 OECD countries surveyed have more graduates in science and engineering among the 25 to 34 year old workers than the United States.
To prevent long-term unemployment from becoming chronic, the Survey suggests a greater focus on “active” labor market programs that help to facilitate job search and guide individuals towards training and education. These measures have proven to be effective even during periods of high unemployment and should complement existing “passive” benefit programs. The United States spends very little on activation policies relative to other OECD countries.
The Survey also highlights rising income inequality in the United States. The trend owes mainly to rising skill premiums and disproportionate income growth for top earners over the past two decades. High income inequality is also associated with low intergenerational social mobility. Children born to low-income parents in the U.S. find it more difficult to move up the social ladder than in most European OECD countries.
Providing equal access to high-quality elementary and secondary education is essential to addressing this challenge. The Survey also notes that the U.S. tax and benefits system is much less effective in reducing relative poverty than that of other OECD countries. This is largely the result of the limited and poorly targeted financial transfers to low-income households.
OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2012 (122 pages)
By Don McCanne, MD
So what does an economic survey of the United States have to do with health care? Simply that we cannot expect to have a superior health care system that serves everyone well if we don’t fulfill our citizen obligation to demand greater government oversight and intervention in education, employment, and especially in the intolerable rise in income inequality. Current trends in the United States are not encouraging.
Trying to fix health care alone without addressing our other serious economic deficiencies offers little hope of bringing to all of us a truly high performance health care system. The Affordable Care Act, by establishing a standard of low actuarial value plans with excessive financial barriers to care will not enable the masses to have the same access to high quality care that the more affluent members of our society experience.
Why are we focusing on austerity when our potential is so great? We should reject political leaders who would foster yet more austerity. We need leaders who understand the importance of education, employment, and more equitable income distribution. That’s not only good for our economy, it’s good for our health as well.