America’s Human Capital Deficit
The future well-being of America depends on the well-being of our kids, and now both appear to be in danger. Two recent reports are raising concerns that the next generation of Americans will be physically and mentally unfit to protect our country.
CBS News this month reported that Army officials are seeing little change from a 2010 study by retired generals and other military leaders, “Too Fat to Fight.” 27% of Americans ages 17 to 24 were too obese to qualify for military service.
A second report found that it’s not only poor fitness that has a direct and tangible effect on our all-volunteer military and national security. Poor education might be even more threatening.
A Task Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations examined ways in which education failure is also leaving our kids unfit to serve the nation. Its report, “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” found that 25% of young people who would otherwise qualify for military service can’t join because they fail to graduate from high school on time. The report also raised a larger concern: how will an under-educated and under-trained generation be able to keep up with developments in information and security technologies?
Citing poor performances on standardized tests, like the PISA and ACT exams, as well as weakness in foreign languages and civics, the report suggests that the U.S. education system is leaving youth unable to compete in the global economy, especially in intellectual property. Good diplomats and engineers will be just as essential to national security as good soldiers, but the next generation might not have enough of either, according to the report.
The CFR report urges the U.S. to improve its overall human capital (in other words, to invest more in kids' health and education). Whether in the context of the military or not, “human capital” is an important term that more economic powerhouses are paying attention to. China and India both have human capital plans to make sure they educate and train enough of their young people in key growth industries. This type of planning is something the U.S. should also study and consider.
Much of this information may not be surprising. But the fact that our nation’s military is essentially disqualifying at least a quarter of kids for obesity and a quarter who didn’t graduate high school, should serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Aside from the national security implications, we are doing a disservice to the next generation by not helping them become healthier and better prepared for college and beyond. This is an issue the Center for the Next Generation will take up in our national kids’ campaign later this year, so stay tuned in.