Young Americans found ignorant of basic econimics

By Joel Guggenheim

Young Americans are generally ignorant of even the most basic of economic principles said David Dieterle, executive director of the Illinois Council on Economic Education.

“Nowhere is (this ignorance) more apparent and more serious in its implications for the future well being of the nation’s economy than among our youth—the generation whose influence will be felt, almost before we know it, in the union hall, in the board room, on the factory floor, in the office and, just as critically, in the voting booth,” he said at the 18th annual meeting of the Illinois Economic Association Nov. 11.

Dieterle’s statements referred to a national survey, which showed only 56 percent of 8,200 students surveyed understand basic economic principles, such as budget deficits, even though such issues appear in newspapers and news programs on a daily basis.

“More than half of the students tested probably couldn’t tell the difference between the GNP and a VCR,” he said. “And many more could tell you practically everything about Andre Dawson’s batting average, but practically nothing about the Dow-Jones Industrial average.”

It is for reasons like this that the Illinois Council on Economic Education was created. Through teacher education, the council and its 10 regional centers, operating on college campuses, reach thousands of students annually.

Dieterle attributed this lack of knowledge to the facts that the subject of economics generally has not received a high priority in the educational process and that there is a lack of preparation of teachers in economics.

“One in four teachers has had economic, business or finance courses,” he said.

Birney McCarney, executive director for the Illinois Council on Economic Education at Illinois State University, Normal, said people do not take economics courses in school because they hear early on that the courses are dull and hard.

“Economics is designed to explain human behavior; basic decisions people have to make in life, not just facts and figures,” he said.

Ten years ago, one in seven students in higher education institutions took economics courses. Today, the average has reached almost 50 percent. Both directors agree that ignorance on economics is rapidly diminishing, but there is still a long way to go.

McCarney said a way to alleviate the problem is to start students in economic programs in early grade school. “The mind is like a blackboard,” he said. “If students develop the wrong impressions (about economics), it is difficult to unlearn and then relearn.”