The economy is booming: Employment is at record-breaking levels, and income and wages are finally rising again. Yet something is missing. Despite all the positive economic news, a significant percent of Georgians (and Americans broadly) have been left behind.
This group of the economically lost and destitute is the subject of a new book called The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America, written by Oren Cass, a think tanker and former advisor to Mitt Romney. Cass includes a number of viable solutions to America’s workforce woes in his book.
We know the unfortunate numbers: Even though gross domestic product tripled between 1975 and 2015, median wages haven’t budged. During that same time, government spending on the social safety net quadrupled. Even though our economy as a whole is more productive, many Americans haven’t seen a real rise in wages, while many others have fallen into the social-safety-net system.
This has created a type of society where many people have access to iPhones and other electronic devices once considered luxuries, but fewer and fewer have access to fruitful work, a good education, and a healthy family life. As Cass puts it, during the past few decades, “Cheap goods and plentiful transfer payments ensured that nearly all Americans could afford cable television and air conditioning, but not that they could build fulfilling lives around productive work, strong families, and healthy communities.”
Cass makes a number of recommendations to ameliorate the problem, several of which dovetail with policy prescriptions from the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO).
One of them is to emphasize alternative pathways to work aside from the traditional college route. The fact of the matter is that attempting universal college completion for all is an unrealistic goal—even though Millennials are the most college-educated generation in history, only 40 percent of them have college degrees. Looking across all generations now alive, the vast majority of Georgians lack a four-year (or higher) college degree. Doesn’t it make sense that we should tailor more training solutions to this majority?
For a solution, Cass suggests the reintroduction of “tracking” into our educational lexicon, where one pathway leads toward college enrollment and another “toward occupational training that leaves a twenty-year-old with serious work experience, a marketable skill, and $30,000 in a savings account.” That is a far more favorable outcome than the reality too often true for Millennials today: burdensome student loan debt with a college credential that increasingly lacks labor-market value. GCO invests in these types of pathways through our apprenticeships emphasis.