Cathy Quiroz Moore
EDSP287 - Abstract
In the January 29, 1996 issue of Time Magazine, Andrew Hacker has written an article
that asks the reader to "Meet the Median Family" and to compare the status of the
"median" family of the nineties with that of families in the seventies. The article
relates the particulars of the life of a fictional couple named Paul and Carol Median.
This fictional couple earns a combined income that is precisely the midpoint of
paychecks for men and women their age. Geographically, they live in the population
center of the U.S. . This family has been created using census data, in order to give the
reader a sense of the exact middle of American life.
Both Paul and Carol have full-time jobs. Carol has just received news of a promotion
at the large book manufacturer where she works, while Paul is uncertain about his
future as a loan officer at a local bank. The book manufacturer is undergoing some
changes that will incorporate technology, seemingly eliminating several jobs, yet Carol
proposes a restructuring of her duties that is in line with the advent of technology
and enhances her position. On the other hand, Paul is not able to envision how to
restructure his role at the local bank, which is also incorporating technology and downsizing.
When compared to the median family of the seventies, several details emerge. The
article contends that 1970 was the height of the postwar era; a time when real-income
almost doubled and American living standards were raised to an all-time high. However, with the advent of competition from foreign economies and their eventual success
in the United States, Americans have since found themselves working harder and longer
just to stay in place. In addition, the article states that the goods purchased
by consumers today are more expensive and varied, by comparison, than the goods purchased
by consumers in the seventies.
Other assertions made in the article include the following: the income pyramid is
rapidly changing, reflecting a marked decline in the number of middle-income families
and a marked increase in the number of high- and low-income families; evidence that
women (such as Carol) are doing better at adapting to the new challenges of the ever-changing
world of work; and, a shift toward older singles who put an emphasis first on careers,
marriage and family second.
The article concludes by asserting that, just as Paul and Carol are struggling to
maintain the "median" lifestyle, the next generation of Medians may have trouble
I believe that the implications for education are far-reaching and will require a
marked departure from attitudes and assumptions of the past. The changing demographics,
priorities, and attitudes of Americans, combined with the reengineering of the workplace and the advent of the information age, require that changes take place in the
role and scope of education. The educational system must let go of traditional paradigms
that can only impede the progress of the coming generation. New paradigms that take into account new technologies, new expectations, and more diverse needs need to
be established - and they need to be reflected in the education that students receive.
First, the workforce of the future is drastically different from that of the past.
Students will need to be prepared to market skills in a diverse set of arenas.
No longer will students prepare for a profession, but rather, they will acquire skills
and knowledge that will allow them apply themselves in a variety of professions. Work
will no longer be a place that one goes, but something that one does. The training
and exposure received in schools will need to prepare students to think divergently
and create situations where their skills are needed. Job security (if it exists) will
no longer be linked to seniority, but to adaptability. As Carol was able to redefine
her role to mesh with the objectives and growth potential of the company, so will
future job-seekers need to see the potential and opportunities inherent in change.
Second, the fact that demographics show that the middle-class is shrinking and the
lower- and upper-class is increasing creates issues concerning the future of the
funding of education and prospects for jobs. Presently, most of the funds for education
are allocated on the basis of local tax revenue. The decrease in the size of the middle
class, which has borne the brunt of the burden, may continue to decrease, while those
in the lower class, who are already struggling, will increase. Will the growing
number of families who are classified as high-income assume this burden? I think not.
The demographics show that low-income households are growing due to the increase
in single-parent families and declining wages. In addition, the current trend in
welfare reform may compel millions of mothers now receiving public assistance into a labor
force that can only offer them bleak prospects. It does not seem that funding for
education or programs for work reform are presently addressing these issues to the
satisfaction of many Americans.
Finally, the priorities and attitudes of Americans are vastly different from those
of twenty years ago and will continue to change in the future. Although present
statistics in many states indicate a decline in unemployment, low interest rates,
a low rate of inflation, or even a rise in average income - Americans are not secure about
their future. The insecurity that pervades is related to the standards of living
and expectations of Americans. Although certainly materialism may play a role in
this, the need to obtain high-cost services like medical insurance, day care or college tuition,
and the high cost of owning a home are at the core of the new priorities of Americans.
In the hopes of obtaining a sense of security, Americans will have to reestablish priorities and redefine attitudes about their future with the knowledge that they
are creating new paragdigms for their children. President Clinton's recent State
of The Union address stresses that much needs to be done to get this country on the
right track - something that most Americans intrinsically sense.
The implications of the issues put forth will alter many of the assumptions and standards
of the past and will be replaced by a (hopefully) better informed and prepared youth.
Meet the Median Family
Andrew Hacker, Queens College, NYC
January 29. 1996