The article had a lot of worrisome statistics, but it lacked any evidence
for what it claimed was its main point, which is that things are getting
worse. They'd have to show that back in the 40s or 70s or whenever,
people were able to do these things better than they can today.
We know from the Flynn effect that people are getting better at abstract
reasoning. It's possible that this is coming at the expense of concrete
skills and factual learning. But I can't help wondering whether the
average 40s GI just off the farm could "orally interpret distinctions
between types of employee benefits."
You also have to look at social changes. Society is much more inclusive
these days. Prior to the civil rights movement you had a large underclass
which wasn't able to even try to participate in the mainstream of the
economy. Today there is a much greater effort to allow everyone to
take part. This by itself will mean that you are seeing people who have
had a more limited background.
A better measure would be to look at an inclusive institution such as
the military. How have literacy rates changed for inductees over the
past decades? They test all their incoming people, and these figures
should be available. This would give a more objective measure of trends.
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