Some Food for Thought

I just returned from the National Forum for the Education Commission of the States. The Commission was formed a number of years ago by the National Governors’ Conference to share information about educational issues. Hawaii has seven commissioners either designated by statute or appointed by the Governor. The Forum attracts some of the best educational thinkers in America. This year, one the plenary speakers was James Johnson a professor at the University of North Carolina.

Dr. Johnson’s topic this year was “Disruptive Demographics.” He outlined six demographics trends confronting America which impact the whole community especially education. Here are the six demographic trends Johnson identifies:

1. The South shall rise;

2. The Browning of America;

3. Marriage is out;

4. The Silver Tsunami is about to hit;

5. The End of Men:

6. Cooling Waters from Grandmothers’ Well.

Provocative? You bet. Let’s examine Dr. Johnson’s trends one by one.

The population shift has been to the Southeast states with the lost coming from the Northeast and to some extent the Midwest. The movement of minorities and the elderly make up the majority of the people moving to the South. Certainly, cost of living, the weather and availability of jobs certainly are the major reasons for this movement.

The Browning of America has been discussed in the media over that past few years. One figure published shows that more than one half of California’s population will be non-white by 2020. Dr. Johnson states that by 2050 more than half of the population of the United States will be non-white with the majority of non-whites Hispanics, followed by Black and then Asian.

The Silver Tsunami is about the hit. The life expectancy at birth is expected to be 101 years old in 2030. The number of centenarians in the United States will grow from 2,300 in 1950 to 601,000 in 2050. Dr. Johnson even suggest that life expectancy will be 150 years of age by the turn of the century. 8,032 people turn 65 every minute of the day.

This silver tsunami is attributable to changes in longevity, declining fertility and the aging of boomer cohort. The progress in modern medicine has been phenomenal. Medicine is able to clone bladders, hearts, livers, etc. People will not have to wait for a heart donor, the doctor will clone one.

Marriage is out with people choosing to live together sans marriage. Women are marrying later and later. Interracial marriage is occurring more and more often.

The most provocative demographic change, Dr. Johnson calls the end of men? He is not suggesting that males will disappear, but their influence will wane will the emergence of women in the work force and power centers.

Three times as many men of working age do not work at all compared to the census in 1969. There is a rising male withdrawal from the labor market due a mismatch of skills, male disabilities and incarceration. In 2010 more than 500,000 more university degrees were issued to women than to men. More than half of the students in professional schools are women (and that includes the University of Hawaii system).

College graduates will be facing a changing world of work. This new world will include outsourcing, off shore work, robotics and freelancing and the “gig”” economy. The “gig” economy is one in which workers freelance or are independent contractors. It is estimated that 40% of workers by 2020 will be in the “gig” economy.

Finally, more and more grandparents will be raising their grandchildren. This includes babysitting services, caring for children abandon by their own parents, orphans, or perhaps because the parents are addicted.

What does all of this mean? Think what it means to live into the hundreds. What will it mean to be working into your 80s? The graying of America and the reduction in the birthrate have huge implications for social security, Medicare and elder care. With fewer younger people supporting social security and Medicare by their contributions, the future of those two programs will require creative work to preserve them.

In schools, we will need to help student’s analysis problems, develop entrepreneurial skills, understand situations in their context, develop soft skills and be able to deal in a variety of cultural situations and have the ability to be agile and flexible.

Dr. Johnson calls these trends disruptive and you can see why. If you want to see his presentation you can go on YouTube under Dr. Johnson UNC or go to and click on the 2018 National Forum and then click on Plenary speakers for Friday afternoon.

By Joan Lee Husted, HEA Board Member

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