Here is a brief overview about North America: there are those who are super rich. Most of these people/families own and control the top 5 companies in every industry: banking, education, retail, agriculture, oil, pharmaceuticals etc.
The middle class is disappearing at an unprecedented rate and many people blame this on major companies for outsourcing and offshoring. Many people say it's JUST to save money. And although saving money is a major reason, I don't thinking you understand the many many other reasons which drastically sweeten the deal.
When I attended high school, classes went from 8:30-2:30. This included a 1 hour lunch and some small breaks. You largely get to choose the courses you take at will, based on interest, and you may have done anywhere from 1-3 hours of homework either a day, or per week.
Your weekends included partying with friends at least one night, maybe two, and Sunday night you'd spend some time cramming for a test early in the week. Or something similar, give or take a few hours.
Provided you did anywhere between ok and quite well, entrance to a program of your choosing at a school of your choosing was not overly restrictive. At most you faced stiff competition and had to have 80's to enter. But that's from high school grades.
In China, middle school students (ages 11-16) take classes from 7am - 6/7pm. Live at the school. Complete a specific extracurricular activity after school, then do 4-6 hours of homework -- per night. Weekends you spend doing homework, the only difference was you may do it at home with your family instead of at the school. My colleagues here tell me the average, ahem, AVERAGE, kid is about 4 years more advanced in MOST academics than in the West. Every university has INSANE entrance exams that make year long cumulative finals in Western universities look like a joke, and you're competing with hundreds of thousands, of other kids. Many of whom score straight 90's -- in everything! So even if you're the best in your class, or even your school, chances are you below average in China.
I teach kids 3-6 years old up until 8pm on Saturday and Sunday here in China, and you complain about starting school at 8am, finishing at 2, and have weekends off. It gets better, while you're competing with the millions of students who are all on honour roll, if you don't get certain grades, the school tells you what you study based on economic demand. You don't get to choose. And you still need to compete with hundreds of thousands for jobs afterwards so it's no walk in the park. How's that 8-2 and weekends off sounding?
Our politicians have no problems continuously reducing spending on education, the schools are in poor shape physically, even if you're school is brand new, it likely doesn't have fancy new technology. I teach these kids English and every single classroom has a smartboard. Not even every high school, or even half of the high schools in Ontario have those!
So when companies choose to offshore, yup, they do save money. The millions of people here are not only 4 years smarter than you, they'll work harder, for less, accomplish more, in a shorter time and do a better job. I would know, I've hired a team personal assistants from India (2-4, task depending) who complete tasks I require (anything from booking an appointment to financial analysis of bank records and more) for $12/hr (combined) and they do an amazing job! You simply can't compete with this sophisticated civilian army.
Then, consider the currency exchange here is not just slightly more favourable (think back to those few precious months when the CA$ was about 20% more valuable than the USD my dear Canadians), but more like 5-10X more favourable, if not more so. What does that mean? It means converting from $/€/£ gets you much much more bang for your buck.
Furthermore the laws here are so much more liberal for businesses to operate.
The Information Age -- A sign of the times:
It gets worse. We are in the Information Age. We also have advanced communications and technology. The Chinese teach children in elementary school the basics of programming. It's mandatory. So combine fantastic computer skills on top of excellent science and math skills coupled with millions of people in similar standings, who will work for a fraction of someone with half the skills in North America and you can see how it looks. Doom and gloom is an understatement. Information is also not location specific. It can be obtained from anywhere in the world and modified/edited or updated by somebody anywhere else. It's information and data which will be the new driver of our economy, and we aren't being taught anything about how to create, manage or sell it.
I'm not trying to bash people in North America like I'm better than anyone or different. I'm sitting here writing this and feel utterly in shock. Kids in America are fat, eat countless amounts of junk food, endure rages over video games and twinkies and are passed in class so as not to be embarrassed by friends. Asia is steadily roaring ahead with a massive crowd, in the millions, who are educated, tech-savvy, extremely disciplined and who know China is rapidly becoming the next world super power. These kids have spent their life hearing about the extreme poverty China has emerged from some 30-45 years ago from their parents. And these parents are hell-bent on ensuring they don't return. They want the kind of life they saw the West enjoy, for themselves, in their homeland, and they're taking it!
What needs to change.
No matter how much money the government says they'll spend on education, NONE of it will matter unless there are considerable changes to the way the education system operates. It should include the following:
1. Every child should learn to code from kindergarten. The basics. Just like English. It should be mandatory all the way to at least the end of high school.
2. Math and science curriculum need significant upgrades and should be required throughout high school.
3. Arts and music, see number 2.
4. Entrepreneurship should be required starting in grade 6. Don't count on having the role of a job in the historical sense. These will be replaced by outsourcing or robots. Not a single one of you can say "my job won't get removed, you can't replace _____ with a robot". Yeah. That's what every person whose job has been replaced said once upon a time. Let me tell you how you know if your job can be replaced: if it has a step-by-step process (oh wait, that's each job), someone can code it into an algorithm. Voila. Done. You're gone. If Google AI can win 5 consecutive rounds of Go (a Chinese game considerably harder than Chess), what makes you think you're so special and talented you're irreplaceable? You're sense of "feeling"? Nope. That's being programmed too (see the different versions of AI coming in the future which account for reason,emotion). And if not, a combination of sensors, cameras, an Internet connection, big data and analytics can do a better job than you can. Doctor? Surgeon? Same thing. Internet connected, ultra-precise robots with tools and techniques beyond human capability will be used in the not-so-distant future. What about body analytics and customized medicines? What we need entrepreneurs for is to learn how to create value. To identify and solve problems. "Getting a job" is financial suicide in this upcoming world.
5. Think global. Thinking global, and beyond the Earth will be required in the future. Colonizing Mars, asteroid mining, interplanetary exploration are all currently being worked on. We need to train people who will address the needs and wants of those in cultures around the globe and take us beyond; people who are creative visionaries.
6. Technology. Schools should be places where you learn to use the most advanced technology. Yet many schools still use paper and pencil. There is a major gap when people graduate and go to jobs and the companies spend significant resources to get people trained on how to use the technology because the private sector is drastically more technologically advanced than what education systems are prepping them for.
7. Online income. If the education system does not educate people on how to earn income online and from a variety of sources, the income gaps will simply become exponentially wider.
The world is advancing. Education, especially in the West, needs to kick it into serious high gear. It's funny how Westerners joke about how the Asian kids at their universities are the "nerds" or "smart ones". The irony and sad part, they're often the ones who aren't good enough for university in Asia. Competition with the left-overs from Asia isn't even the real competition, and these "left-overs" are whipping our asses.
So what do I see for the West in the future, perhaps even start to really show near the middle/end of my lifetime? A couple options if nothing changes:
A) The wealth gap will continue to widen. The existing wealthy will continue to ride this wave of development in the East and live even more flamboyantly in the West. While the existing and increasingly uneducated will become significantly poorer.
B) The wealthy will move to the East and the world will progress there for the next few hundred years as it did in the West for the previous years. Those left in the West will see their life become what those in the East have dealt with up until recently.