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Challenges for the US in the 21st Century – Tasks

Summing up

Write 3 or 4 keywords from each of the 5 topics that you have been reading about. Copy the table below into you text editor to write down your keywords.

Jobs and EducationEconomy and InequalityBaby-boomers RetireClimate ChangeThe US in Decline


  1. Which of these challenges do you see as most important and/or most difficult to deal with? Why?
  2. Are these challenges exclusively American, or do we have similar problems in Norway?
  3. Can you think of any other challenges that are not mentioned in the text that the USA is facing or has to face in the years to come?


Watch this video about higher education and careers and discuss the questions below.

American colleges: Education worth the price?

  1. According to the video, what is the main problem with higher education in the USA? Sum up.
  2. Do we see any of the same problems here in Norway?
  3. In many countries there is a tendency to see vocational programs as lesser or inferior; so it is in the USA. Is it like that in Norway? Are we doing young people today a disservice by encouraging them to take a long, expensive academic education instead of a vocational one?
  4. PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a fierce critic of the American educational system, has become a controversial figure in the USA during the past few years. He believes that, instead of accumulating debt in college, many young people should spend more time building a business, developing ideas and getting hands-on experience. Therefore, the Thiel Foundation has offered a scholarship to 24 young people under the age of 20 where they receive $100,000 to drop out of college to focus full-time on building a business. Watch this interview with Peter Thiel and find out more about the scholarship. Do you think this is a good idea? What creates the best value for the country in the long run: higher academic education or practical experience?

Financial Situation for the Average American

The American middle class has always enjoyed a rising standard of living. This has been part of America’s sense of itself, a part of the American Dream, for as long as people can remember. However, things have changed. Due to the financial situation in the USA, the middle class is facing a crisis, and social inequality is on the rise. American middle class families finished the first decade of the 21st century poorer and with lower incomes than they had had 10 years earlier. The middle class grew smaller, poorer and more pessimistic during this decade, and it is now harder than before to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.

Some Sobering Facts about the American Middle Class:

  • There are 8.5 million people receiving unemployment insurance and over 40 million receiving food stamps.
  • At the current pace of job creation, the economy won't return to full employment until 2018.
  • Middle-income jobs are disappearing from the economy. The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010.
  • Middle-income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of total employment.
  • 17 million Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor's degree.
  • Over the past year, nominal wages grew only 1.7% while all consumer prices, including food and energy, increased by 2.7%.
  • Wages and salaries have fallen from 60% of personal income in 1980 to 51% in 2010. Government transfers have risen from 11.7% of personal income in 1980 to 18.4% in 2010, a post-war high.

Yahoo! Finance: America’s Middle Class Crisis: The Sobering Facts

Discuss in Class

Below you will find a video clip that talks about the financial situation for the middle class in the USA. Watch the clip, read "Some sobering facts about the American middle class" in the link collection and discuss the questions.

Workers in Trouble: US Middle Class Disappearing

  1. How and why has the situation for the middle class in the USA changed?
  2. According to the video clip “…there have been 4 pillars that supported the American middle class: the chance to retire, the chance to send your kids to higher education, the chance to work and afford a comfortable standard of living, and access to medical care.” Through the information you are given in the text, how would you describe the situation for these 4 pillars today?
  3. Financial experts are worried that a shrinking middle class will threaten the social composition and stability of the world’s biggest economy. Using the information you have found, explain in your own words why the shrinking of the middle class is considered a serious problem in the USA today.
  4. The American Dream has always been important in the USA, and America prospered on the belief that the next generation would live better than the first. How do you think the financial situation in the USA has influenced the American Dream for the average American?

Reading Charts

This article from Huffington Post presents 15 Facts about U.S. Income Inequality That Everyone Should Know

  1. Read the article and go through the slides on your own. When you have read and understood the slides, work with a partner. Take turns in explaining what information the slides actually give you.
  2. Based on these slides, how would you describe the development in the USA when it comes to social equality?
  3. Is there anything here that surprises you?
  4. If the article and the slides had been about Norway, where do you think the greatest differences would have been? Discuss.
Sist oppdatert 13.11.2018
Skrevet av Karin Søvik


US History