The New York Times relied on just a single source for their article on the PIAAC survey results (other than quoting from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s press release), Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:
In the most highly educated population, people with graduate and professional degrees, Americans lagged slightly behind the international averages in skills. But the gap was widest at the bottom; among those who did not finish high school, Americans had significantly worse skills than their counterparts abroad.
“These kinds of differences in skill sets matter a lot more than they used to, at every level of the economy,” Dr. Carnevale said. “Americans were always willing to accept a much higher level of inequality than other developed countries because there was upward mobility, but we’ve lost a lot of ground to other countries on mobility because people don’t have these skills.” (my emphasis)
UPDATE 10/10/13: The Times followed up their initial report with a more in-depth piece by Eduardo Porter, “Stubborn Skills Gap in America’s Work Force,” that looks at the study in the the context of the ongoing skills gap debate:
The O.E.C.D. study lands in the midst of a contentious debate over whether the United States faces a skills shortage. Over the last couple of years, employers have been saying that they can’t find enough skilled workers. Economists and other commentators have pointed out that employers would probably find them if they offered higher wages.
The report suggests that the sluggish employment growth since the nation emerged from recession probably has little to do with a skills deficit that has been a generation in the making. But it pretty forcefully supports the case that this deficit is an albatross around the economy’s neck.
“The recession did not fundamentally change the structure of the economy in terms of the supply and demand for skills or education,” argues Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution, who produced a study last year about the education gap afflicting the job markets of America’s largest cities. “Before the recession, inadequate education was a major problem. It continues to be.” (my emphasis)