America Isn’t Working

The U.S. has the most creative imagination and flexibility, but unemployment is wasting our potential.

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Lack of education, in part, is a critical component of the national employment crisis and the disturbing trend in the quality of jobs. Education means skills. Skills bolster productivity. Productivity is the key ingredient to economic success. The greater the skills, the higher the wages and the higher the employment ratio. So it is bewildering that we have continued for so long to impose immigration restrictions on highly educated engineers and scientists, most of whom have studied in America. These people are job creators, not job replacers. Restricting them is counterproductive in those very industries that are growing the most expansively. Why have the legislators become so scared when skilled immigration has historically been a crucial element of America's progress? Scared out of their wits indeed.

[Check out the U.S. News STEM Blog.]

Low-wage industries have created over 43 percent of net employment growth, while better paying industries like construction, manufacturing, finance, and insurance have not grown enough to make up for recession losses. The manufacturing sector remains about 1.8 million jobs below pre-recession levels. And deep cuts in state and local governments hit mid- and higher-wage occupations the most.

What must be done to avoid a descent to a low-wage, part-time America? There are a whole raft of programs:

  • Invest in infrastructure and high-speed Internet connections. Another dreadful feature of our times is that the country that invented the Internet—us!—is only a middling country now in terms of the percentage of households with broadband connections. (Tops? South Korea!)
  • Restore—no, restore then multiply—the government funds for training programs and tie them to unemployment. Copy Sweden. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that a decade of investment in vocational training far bigger than its rivals has boosted Swedish manufacturing productivity.
  • Increase investment in education, especially vocational training and post-secondary education. We don't have to rely on bodies and buildings; there's the Internet as a disseminator, another reason why it's so regrettable that we are only middling in access to broadband.
  • Strengthen science, technology, engineering, and math in high schools and broaden access to computer science. Recruit and train more STEM teachers. At the university level, produce more degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • As Microsoft has proposed, add 20,000 annual visas for foreigners with much-needed science and technology skills. It is stupid reactionary nativism to force many of our international graduates, educated at our best universities, to return home or settle elsewhere. Executive action is overdue.
  • Improve the attractiveness to foreign companies of locating here through a simplification of regulation, since these companies cite regulation more than any other problem as an impediment to investing and creating jobs here.
  • [See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

    We still remain the country with the greatest spirit, and with the most creative imagination and flexibility, which makes business cycles volatile but brings them to an end. But we can no longer afford to happily ride the roller coaster to the next rise when the vehicle has so many loose rivets.

    • Read Hester Peirce: 10 Ways Dodd-Frank Will Hurt the Economy in 2013
    • Read Anson Kaye: On Debt Ceiling, House GOP Puts Principle Over Responsibility
    • Read Robert Schlesinger: Beware the Defaults of March