If you listen to House Republicans or GOP activists, you would think the only thing standing between American workers and good-paying jobs is tax cuts and deregulation for business. Perhaps properly structured these things would help, but they are plainly insufficient.
Take it from a conservative policy wonk who has figured out critical elements that have nothing to do with the tax code or regulations. Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute writes:
Given my interest in education, skills development, civil society, decentralization, and culture-that is, in issues that can complement the traditional economic analysis of employment-I’m now thinking about our work problems in five categories. I call it “CAN DO.” It’s an acronym for Culture, Access, Necessity, Desire, and Openings. It moves to the front of the line two elements that I believe are too often pushed to the side. And, in combination, the five are meant to convey a sense of the possible if we take all of the pieces seriously.
On the culture side, he cautions not to assume the value of work is being taught. Moreover, the impetus to work “depends on teachable skills and dispositions like perseverance; that, as AEI’s president Arthur Brooks has persuasively argued, we must dignify all types of work; that . . . we apply some social stigma to non-work among the able.”
As for access, there’s a mismatch between workers’ skills and job openings. That means we have to “re-orient high school and post-secondary to prepare students for good current and future jobs and how to ’re-skill’ adults who’ve lost jobs.” He continues, “Progress is being made: There’s exciting activity in career-and-technical-education schools, apprenticeships, community-college reform, work-site training, and more. But one of my big lessons-learned is that as our economy evolves and new jobs require more specialized skills, we can’t assume that the skids are greased for matching human capital and open positions.”
Access to jobs often requires mobility. “There are lots of possible explanations for why Americans don’t move: maybe their occupational licenses won’t be accepted in other states, maybe the cost-of-living is too high elsewhere, maybe they don’t want to lose the social capital they have in their current locations,” he explains. “But if people are geographically stationary, they might be especially handicapped by today’s economy because job growth may occur far from where they are.” Our unemployment system is not designed to help people move but instead encourages them to stay put to receive benefits.
The third element, necessity, will raise hackles but it’s a rather open secret that our disability system is being abused. (“We’ve also seen a skyrocketing in American’s substitution of disability benefits for work.”) Supplementing rather than replacing work is one solution, but we also need to honestly reexamine how we administer disability benefits.
Other elements include desire (in my book, if it’s necessary to work, desire will follow) and openings, which unfortunately too many people are not qualified to fill.
We take such strong exception to immigration exclusionists because they are selling an easy lie — get rid of immigrants — in place of dealing with the complex issues revolving around creating ready workers and elevating work. The problem cuts across policies on education, health care, child care and the safety net. President Trump has neither the inclination or ability to grapple with such issues so, like all demagogues, he sells fear of the “other” and bogus, easy answers. Supply-side veterans remain obsessed with the tax code, even though the top marginal tax rate is not anywhere near where it was in the Reagan era.
The shame here is not simply spreading racism or creating new schemes to give the rich tax breaks; it’s the opportunity cost of ignoring hard issues and refusing to look for effective solutions.