Other than the baby food and diaper industries, few parts of the economy are as directly and immediately impacted by shifts in the birth rate as education. When the numbers drop, school districts struggle to pay for excess classrooms and other capital facilities and fixed costs, while brilliant young teachers get fired because they don’t have seniority. When the birth rate surges, districts struggle to find money, space, and teachers, and even the worst teachers are retained and get seniority, becoming a serious liability that will last for decades.
Education also has to cope with the consequences of the demographic waves of the past. As the Baby Boom generation retires, a massive number of critical skilled jobs are going to be left unfilled. The generations that have followed the Boomers are too small and have been trained in different fields, which is going to create many gaps in the labor force as the Boomers leave. For our post-secondary education system, this will place a great deal of pressure on universities, community colleges, and other training programs to train skilled replacements.
Education is one of those industries being whipsawed. For our primary and secondary education system, this has a high likelihood of creating a serious shortage of capable primary and secondary teachers. As teachers born in the baby boom generation retire, they are not being replaced nearly fast enough. As mentioned above, teacher shortages have the insidious effect of undermining efforts to improve teacher quality, and in many cases the seniority system makes the mistakes impossible to correct. Our demographic trends could well put another nail in the coffin of America’s educational system, if we don’t act to forestall it.