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Are High Heels The New Economic Predictor?

Tara Kelly   |   November 23, 2011   11:00 AM ET

From hemlines to lipstick, female fashion trends have long been seen as indicators for the economic climate. Now, the latest proposed sartorial index for predicting the future of the economy is the height of high heels, according to Jezebel.

Researchers at IBM analyzed data from social media sites and blog posts to find that flat shoes and kitten heels are in -- a possible sign that an economic recovery is already in the making.

"Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up -- as consumers turn to a more flamboyant fashion as a means of fantasy and escape," Trevor Davis, a consumer product expert with IBM's Global Services Unit said in a press release announcing the results of the study.

At the height of the economic crisis in 2009, the median height of women's heels peaked at seven inches, according to mentions on blogs and in posts to social media sites. By 2011, that median had dropped all the way to two inches, Portfolio.com reports.

There are, of course, other possible explanations for dropping heel heights. Women may simply be ditching their heels in favor of a more pain-free walking experience, or, for once, low heels may actually indicate longer-term economic woes.

"This time, something different is happening -- perhaps a mood of long-term austerity is evolving among consumers, sparking a desire to reduce ostentation in everyday settings," Davis said in the report.

This inferred correlation between women's shoes and the economy recalls earlier fashion trends thought to be economic indicators.

Back in January, ABC News took a look at the hemline theory coined by George Taylor, a professor at the Wharton Business School. Taylor noticed skirt hemlines climbed during the roaring 1920s, but fell again during the Great Depression. He explained women wore shorter skirts to show off their expensive silk stockings during good economic times, but longer hemlines were more preferable to cover bare legs during a recession.

The trend seemed to continue in the 60s and beyond, long after silk stockings weren't widely warn, according to the blog Financial Jesus.

Still, some say that lipstick is the best indicator of where the economy is headed. Leonard Lauder, the chairman of Estee Lauder companies, introduced the idea after noticing that lipstick sales jumped in the aftermath of 2001 terrorist attacks, according to The New York Times. His explanation? Women turn to less expensive indulgences, like lipstick, when they felt less confident about the future.

So just how well do these alleged indicators say the economy is doing? According to a recent study from the NDP Group, a market research firm, U.S. lipstick sales increased 14 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the Daily Mail. According to the lipstick index, that means our economic future isn't looking so great. And hemlines? Fashionology reports skirts are trending toward knee length, a development which might be interpreted as, "It could be worse."

It's Time for a New Model for Our Schools

Stanley S. Litow   |   September 12, 2011    2:53 PM ET

An August 2011 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce confirms what teachers, parents, and public and private sector leaders have known for years: A postsecondary education is now the gateway to the middle class. The Georgetown study indicates that the lifetime earnings for people with bachelor's degrees are 84 percent greater than those with only a high school diploma -- whose lifetime earnings translate to just over $15/hour.

For the undereducated -- those who have been left behind in the race between technology and education which has fueled global economic growth since World War II -- today's employment and earnings statistics are beyond dire. In a third-quarter 2011 study, The Milken Institute reports that "the median earnings of all men ... with less than a high school education ... have declined by 66 percent [not a misprint]," and that members of this group have experienced a "23 percentage point decline in the probability of having any labor-market earnings [emphasis added]."

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In Brooklyn, N.Y., teacher Tanya Spence (right), Principal Rashid Ferrod Davis (left) and IBM Citizenship Vice President Stanley Litow prepare for a class at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a new type of school sponsored by IBM that helps students attain the skills for careers in the technology industry. (Bob Goldberg/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Thomas L. Friedman writes in The New York Times that "globalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level," so that "to get into the middle class now, you have to study harder, work smarter and adapt quicker than ever before." Many good jobs still exist, Friedman observes, but they require "more education or technical skills." Friedman's conclusion: We have a skills problem, not a jobs problem.

By 2018, according to the Georgetown study, 63 percent of American jobs will require some form of post-secondary education or training. Today, even though more than half of U.S. companies say they can't find qualified employees, only 41 percent of all Americans hold a college degree (the U.S. ranks 10th on this measure), and a mere 30 percent of young adults finish their Bachelor's. Our young people are getting the message about the need for advanced education and training, but they're not getting the preparation and support they require.

For the overwhelming percentage of American high school graduates who seek to improve their lot by pursuing advanced learning in our community colleges, the actual graduation rates from associate's degree programs represent a stunning disappointment. In some cities, as many as 93 percent of community college students fail to graduate even after spending six years in pursuit of a two-year degree. And for students needing remedial science and math education, the dropout rate by the end of the first semester at some institutions is a mind-blowing 99 percent. Clearly, the bar has been raised. But our school systems are failing to prepare our children either for immediate employment in growth fields where they can build long-lasting careers, or for post-secondary educational success. The system is broken, and the time for a new education model isn't next year or even next week. It's now.

The only way to close the skills gap and give our children a meaningful opportunity for future prosperity is for all of us to work together and work smarter. Education is no longer just a "schools" problem, and collaboration and commitment from parents, teachers, students, and the community -- including the private sector -- is essential to turning things around.

In Crown Heights Brooklyn, an innovative new partnership among the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, the New York College of Technology, and IBM promises to deliver education, training, and real-world job skills to young people hungry for the chance to participate in the economy and contribute to society. It's called the Pathways in Technology School, or P-TECH for short.

P-TECH is a STEM Pathway grade 9 through 14 school that will provide its students with a seamless, rigorous and relevant six-year science and technology education leading to both a high school diploma and an Associate's degree in Applied Science (AAS) in Computer Systems Technology or Electromechanical Engineering Technology. Corporate mentors assigned to each student, teacher, and P-TECH's principal will help enrich the curriculum with real-world learning -- including the in-depth content knowledge and core employability skills that make P-TECH graduates ready for tomorrow's jobs or further education without the need for remedial work.

Many of the students in P-TECH's inaugural class of 130 ninth graders will be the first in their families to attain a post-secondary degree. In a market where the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the creation of 14 million new jobs over the next 10 years for holders of two-year degrees in such areas as computer science, P-TECH graduates will be first in line for entry-level careers at IBM and with other leading high-technology companies -- ready to begin and grow their careers without the burden of student loan debt.

To address the crises facing our educational system, and our lack of qualified applicants for tomorrow's good-paying technology jobs, the P-TECH model must extend beyond just one school, one neighborhood, or one city. All too often, our nation's school systems have tolerated wide-ranging mediocrity while championing a small number of successful schools. P-TECH has the potential to break that pattern of complacency and stand as a repeatable model for STEM Pathway schools anywhere that the public and private sectors are willing to collaborate to provide their children with the 21st century education to meet the world's need for skills. P-TECH has no special admissions criteria, and does not break school system budgets. And with mayors from around the country clamoring for their own STEM Pathway schools, the future of targeted education through the contributions of parents, teachers, students, and civic and corporate leadership looks bright.