I agree with the premise of Michael Bloomberg and Arne Duncan’s op-ed in the Chicago Tribune—the U. S. economy isn’t working for too many Americans:
About half of Americans don’t own stocks, and the share of national income going to workers — rather than investors — is actually near an all-time low. Meanwhile, almost half of all American workers earn an average of $10.22 per hour, or about $18,000 per year. President Trump hasn’t pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, even though it hasn’t increased in 10 years.
Millions of Americans, especially people of color, struggle to find a job. In Chicago, more than 45% percent of black men between the ages of 20 and 24 are jobless. This is what President Trump calls “the greatest economy in the history of America.” We couldn’t disagree more.
It used to be that a high school diploma came with a ticket to the middle class. That’s no longer true because many good jobs have been lost to global trade and technology. But instead of focusing on creating good new jobs, and helping people get the skills that today’s careers require, President Trump promises to bring the old jobs back. And he has failed, miserably.
but I disagree with their prescription:
We both strongly believe that America needs more paid apprenticeships, which provide on-the-job training for good jobs. They have been proven to work in countries such as Germany, England and Switzerland — and they can work well in the U.S., with federal support. Apprenticeships give workers training and experience that will open doors for their careers, and they ensure employers can find employees with skills they need to fill jobs. Yesterday, one of us (Bloomberg) announced a strategy for creating 1 million paid apprenticeships annually.
We have both also seen how vital community colleges are. They are the pathway to employment for millions of Americans. The federal government should make a major investment in their capacity to prepare students for employment, connect them to growing industries, and align curricula and standards with the skills that lead to good jobs. That includes increasing the number of students earning work-based degrees, which integrate classroom instruction with apprenticeships, internships or meaningful work-study experiences. We can incentivize success by rewarding states, local communities and schools that boost completion rates, job placements and earnings of graduates.
We should also help workers transition to new jobs by providing federal student aid to quality short-term certificate programs that demonstrate strong outcomes. We must also extend the earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance to Americans in training programs, so they can cover child care costs, rent, and other living expenses while they are investing in their future.
These steps will help to bridge the prosperity divide in America and ensure that our economy works for all people, in all parts of our country.
There are many reasons for the present lack of opportunity and income inequality but spending more money on education or paid apprenticeships, something I support, won’t address any of them and it may exacerbate existing problems. Rather than presenting a coherent counter-argument, I’ll just cite a few examples of why their prescription won’t work.
Presently, 16 million Americans are in college. 20 million Indians are in college in India. Today there are 70,000 journalism majors in the country’s J-schools. That’s more than the total number of people working as journalists. I think that people should pursue any field of study they care to—I just don’t think we should subsidize, either via grants or loans, fields of study unlikely to result in gainful employment. That won’t just require spending more on education. We need to redesign our entire education policy.
The problem with apprenticeship programs is that, unless very carefully crafted, in our present economic and social climate they will result in reducing the number of jobs for which Americans will be hired.
Our problem is not that we don’t spend enough on education or that we don’t have apprenticeship programs. After all we spend more on education than any other country in the world. Our problem is that the number of good jobs isn’t increasing fast enough and we’re importing too many workers to fill the good jobs we are creating.
As I have said before the sources of income inequality are
- Financialization of the economy
- Ferocious subsidization of certain fields
- Immigration, legal and illegal, maintaining a slack labor market
Unless we do something about those issues nothing else will produce much in the way of results. Those are the basics.