The greatest increase in population growth in the U.S. workforce is occurring among those racial/ethnic groups with the lowest level of education, while the group reaching retirement age is predominantly white with higher levels of education. In 2000, whites ages 25 to 64 were twice as likely as African-Americans to have a bachelor's degree, and almost three times as likely as Hispanics/Latinos (see figure 5).
Additionally, the gaps among racial/ethnic groups in levels of education completed are widening. Of the working-age population, from 1980 to 2000 whites and Asian-Americans made the most progress in attaining a bachelor's degree or higher, while African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics/Latinos made the least progress (see figure 5).
The educational gap between whites and Hispanics/Latinos (as measured by the percentage of the working-age population with a bachelor's degree or higher) has almost doubled over the last two decades—growing from 12 percentage points in 1980 to 19 percentage points in 2000. The gap between whites and African-Americans has expanded from 11 percentage points in 1980 to 15 percentage points in 2000.1
Another gauge of educational performance of particular populations is their level of success in progressing from high school to a college degree (see figure 6). About 50% of African-American and Hispanic/Latino 9th graders do not become eligible to enter college after four years of high school because they have not completed high school. Though the most telling indicators of college preparation are generally said to be standardized test scores, rigorous course-taking, and dual enrollment—all of which are important—the single largest barrier to college entrance for African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos appears to be high school completion.
1Comparable data are not available for 1980 for associate’s
degree attainment by ethnicity. From 1990 to 2000, however,
the patterns for associate’s degrees are similar to those for
bachelor’s degrees: the percentage of each major racial/ethnic
population that has achieved an associate’s degree or higher
has increased, but Asian-Americans and whites have made
faster progress than Hispanics/Latinos, African-Americans,
and Native Americans.