This is Scary! We Have To Fix This!

Last month, MSNBC published an article on Why American Consumers Can’t Add that’s frightening. Look at these statistics:

  • Only 2 in 5 Americans can pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip.
  • Only 1 in 5 Americans can reliably calculate mortgage interest.
  • Only 13% of Americans were deemed “proficient”. That means
    less than 1 in 7 American adults are “proficient” at math.


  • 20 M Americans — roughly 1 in 9 of Americans aged 18-65 — pay someone to fill out their 1040EZ: a one-page tax form with around 10 blanks to fill out
  • The U.S. Ranks 25th of 30 industrialized nations in math scores, down near Serbia and Uruguay!
  • 50% of American 17 year olds couldn’t do enough math to work in an auto plant

And if this isn’t bad enough,

  • In 18 US states, not even one elementary math class is required for teacher certification
  • Some U.S. teaching colleges allow admittance as long as students have math skills equal to their future students — that is, as long as they could pass a grad 5 math class. (Are they smarter than a 5th grader? You have to wonder!)
  • In some states, you can pass the teacher certification exam without answering even a single math question correctly!

Not only did our collective lack of math skills contribute to the current fiasco — after all, if you’re paying $100 to a tax preparer for 3 minutes of work, taking out 250% APR payday loans, and agreeing to 1,000% overdraft protect loans from your bank, how could you possibly see through the consequences of an (unpredictable) adjustable-rate mortgage or make a sound bet on their future earnings potential or fight with financial planners over fees that are swallowing one-third of your retirement savings.

We can forget about a recovery and any hope of regaining former glory if we don’t fix this — and do it fast. Math is becoming more and more necessary in just about every profession, and supply chain in particular. How can you do an analysis, break down a cost model, or even know whether or not the offer you’re getting is any good if you can’t do enough math to figure out a total landed cost per unit?

I don’t know what the answer is, but it has to start at the foundation. No more teachers who don’t know at least 1st year University math, and no more curriculums that don’t give math at least the same level of importance as every other subject. We need to get back to the three R’s, Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic … because Math is now the common language of the world. If you can’t read and write math, at the rate the information revolution is progressing, there might soon come a time where you can’t communicate at all!

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