Report Highlights "Worrisome Indicators" of US Competitiveness

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Publication date: 
3 November 2005

As reported in FYI #155, a committee of the National Academies has issued a report that recommends a series of actions for the federal government to take to maintain the nation's competitiveness through the 21st century. These recommendations will be highlighted in FYI #157.

The report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," runs approximately 150 pages plus a lengthy series of appendices. It can be ordered, or read online, at the following web site: .

In the Executive Summary (, the committee highlighted a series of "Worrisome Indicators" that the U.S.'s global preeminence is declining. This list is quoted below.

"When asked in spring 2005 what is the most attractive place in the world in which to ‘lead a good life,' respondents in only one of the 16 countries polled (India) indicated the United States."

"For the cost of one chemist or one engineer in the United States, a company can hire about five chemists in China or 11 engineers in India."

"For the first time, the most capable high-energy particle physics accelerator on Earth will, beginning in 2007, reside outside the United States."

"The United States is today a net importer of high-technology products. Its share of global high-technology exports has fallen in the last 2 decades from 30% to 17%, and its trade balance in high-technology manufactured goods shifted from plus $33 billion in 1990 to a negative $24 billion in 2004."

"Chemical companies closed 70 facilities in the United States in 2004 and have tagged 40 more for shutdown. Of 120 chemical plants being build around the world with price tags of $1 billion or more, one is in the United States and 50 in China."

"Fewer than one-third of US 4th grade and 8th grade students performed at or above a level called ‘proficient' in mathematics; ‘proficiency' was considered the ability to exhibit competence with challenging subject matter. Alarmingly, about one-third of the 4th graders and one-fifth of the 8th graders lacked the competence to perform basic mathematical computations."

"US 12th graders recently performed below the international average for 21 countries on a test of general knowledge in mathematics and science. In addition, an advanced mathematics assessment was administered to US students who were taking or had taken precalculus, calculus, or Advanced Placement calculus and to students in 15 other countries who were taking or had taken advanced mathematics courses. Eleven nations outperformed the United States, and four countries had scores similar to the US scores. No nation scored significantly below the United States."

"In 1999, only 41% of US 8th grade students received instruction from a mathematics teacher who specialized in mathematics, considerably lower than the international average of 71%."

"In one recent period, low-wage employers, such as Wal-Mart (now the nation's largest employer) and McDonald's, created 44% of the new jobs, while high-wage employers created only 29% of the new jobs."

"In 2003, only three American companies ranked among the top 10 recipients of patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office."

"In Germany, 36% of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering. In China, the figure is 59%, and in Japan 66%. In the United States, the corresponding figure is 32%."

"The United States is said to have 10.5 million illegal immigrants, but under the law the number of visas set aside for ‘highly qualified foreign workers' dropped to 65,000 a year from its 195,000 peak."

"In 2004, China graduated over 600,000 engineers, India 350,000, and America about 70,000."

"In 2001 (the most recent year for which data are available), US industry spent more on tort litigation than on R&D."