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August 1, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

How to use public policy to fix the economic and educational problems of the middle class in America

Borrowing on an article suggested by Seb Paquet written by Don Peck in the Atlantic:

1. More support for entrepreneurship and innovation (I haven’t developed this enough below–but its developed a bit in the article))
2. More career training. The author advocates the Career Academy. Our investment in college versus career training is pretty skewed currently on order of magnitude. We probably need to re-invest in both.
3. Not mentioned in the article–but possibly an option consistent with his premises. The government will pay 1/2 or all for up to $1500 for career related training or certification.
4. Fix our ailing higher ed programs (government or NGOs could highlight best practices better).
5. Fix our middle school issue. This is soooo key–its a make or break time for many kids according to the research literature.
6. Fix the high school & college drop out rate. One way I’ve heard the high school drop out rate being fixed is to provide them with college classes in a centralized location (ie a former mall facility) which increases motivation & completion rates dramatically.
7. Figuring out how to solve the challenge of technology and globalization without resorting to the worst kinds of protectionism (ie the kinds that escalate into nasty trade wars).
8. Capitalizing on our role as an immigrant magnet, particularly in research and higher education.
9. Lower inefficient and unproductive regulations–particularly in industries which are highly competive. (I think you have to address this on a case by case basis–but its still important. For instance, you don’t want mercury in the water, simply because renewables is a competitive industry). Perhaps something along the lines of Six Sigma could be applied to government regulations in order to identify possible inefficiencies.

Education alone won’t be the answer, but I can’t see a solution to the problem without engaging the educational sector. Essentially not fixing the system–when its broken is failing to capitalize on so much brain power and investment in the sector.

As we continue to push for better K–12 schooling and wider college access, we also need to build more paths into the middle class that do not depend on a four-year college degree. One promising approach, as noted by Haskins and Sawhill, is the development of “career academies”—schools of 100 to 150 students, within larger high schools, offering a curriculum that mixes academic coursework with hands-on technical courses designed to build work skills. Some 2,500 career academies are already in operation nationwide. Students attend classes together and have the same guidance counselors; local employers partner with the academies and provide work experience while the students are still in school.

“Vocational training” programs have a bad name in the United States, in part because many people assume they close off the possibility of higher education. But in fact, career-academy students go on to earn a postsecondary credential at the same rate as other high-school students. What’s more, they develop firmer roots in the job market, whether or not they go on to college or community college. One recent major study showed that on average, men who attended career academies were earning significantly more than those who attended regular high schools, both four and eight years after graduation. They were also 33 percent more likely to be married and 36 percent less likely to be absentee fathers.

Career-academy programs should be expanded, as should apprenticeship programs (often affiliated with community colleges) and other, similar programs that are designed to build an ethic of hard work; to allow young people to develop skills and achieve goals outside the traditional classroom as well as inside it; and ultimately to provide more, clearer pathways into real careers. By giving young people more information about career possibilities and a tangible sense of where they can go in life and what it takes to get there, these types of programs are likely to lead to more-motivated learning, better career starts, and a more highly skilled workforce. Their effect on boys in particular is highly encouraging. And to the extent that they can expose boys to opportunities within growing fields like health care (and also expose them to male role models within those fields), these programs might even help weaken the grip of the various stereotypes that seem to be keeping some boys locked into declining parts of the economy.

Even in the worst of scenarios, “middle skill” jobs are not about to vanish altogether. Many construction jobs and some manufacturing jobs will return. And there are many, many middle-income occupations—from EMTs, lower-level nurses, and X-ray technicians, to plumbers and home remodelers—that trade and technology cannot readily replace, and these fields are likely to grow. A more highly skilled workforce will allow faster, more efficient growth; produce better-quality goods and services; and earn higher pay.


* I believe only 4 or so of the recommendations I mentioned are discussed in the article.
** My solutions deal with making the middle class useful again as well as building the middle class. I think both strategies are an important way to build our economy, our overall competitiveness, and our future.

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