Inequality Broke the Economy. How Can We Fix It in New York City?

Sep 26, 2013Nell Abernathy

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

The Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, and the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute recently convened a panel of local policy experts to discuss inequality in New York and how the next mayor can address it. Watch the video below.

“The economy is broken and inequality broke it,” James Parrott, Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, said Tuesday night at the Roosevelt Institute’s forum on Inequality in New York.

The divide between the rich and the poor in New York and across the nation is not an inevitable consequence of technology, globalization, or even human capital, each of the panelists reiterated. “This is the result of policy choices,” Parrott continued. Learn more about what the next mayor should do to tackle inequality and how he can pay for it by watching the video of the event below:

Maya Wiley, Founder and President of the Center for Social Inclusion, emphasized the role of government in creating opportunity. “Fundamentally what we’ve had is a narrative that government gets in the way, rather than recognizing that we created a middle class in this country beginning with the New Deal, continuing with the Fair Deal, based on a series of policies that brought it into being in the mid-20th century. By and large, the middle class as we know it today didn’t even exist until the middle of the 20th century. And we forget that. It wasn’t some natural occurrence.”

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project, said a key driver of inequality in New York City has been the stagnation of wages for the working and middle class. New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equates to an annual income of $15,000 a year. Our next mayor, she argued, should work with Albany and the City Council to increase the city’s minimum wage, following the example of other high-cost cities like San Francisco, which has a floor of $10.55 an hour.

“Depending on how high you raise that wage, you could impact nearly a million workers living in the city,” said Gebreselassie. “It’s a tremendous policy in terms of boosting the wage floor across the low-wage labor market and putting money in the hands of people who will spend it immediately at local business, giving a stimulative effect to our economy as a whole.”

Lawrence Aber, a professor of psychology and public policy at NYU, said the next mayor should focus public investment on poor children ages 0-5. “We now know that poverty literally gets under the skin and into the mind.” Under-nourishment during the first few years reduces human development and puts children at a lifelong disadvantage. Every dollar invested to beef up New York’s existing child health programs, he explained, goes much further than public money spent to correct developmental challenges further down the road.

When an audience member questioned panelists about how they planned to pay for their proposed programs, answers varied.

The next mayor could use budget policy to reshuffle priorities. For example, tax breaks for real estate development in New York grew 180 percent under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, to a total of $3 billion a year, Wiley said. Given the booming nature of New York’s real estate market, that public money could be better spent. Aber said the next mayor could use the bully pulpit to advocate for a shift in national budget priorities.

While an increase in local revenue cannot fund all the panelists’ priorities, there is room to raise taxes on the city’s top income bracket, Parrott said. Critics of progressive policy often cite income tax data to emphasize the percentage of city taxes paid by the rich, but Parrott showed that when property taxes and sales taxes are included, the rich, in fact, pay only 25.2 percent of the city’s tax burden while taking home 33.8 percent of total income.

The breadth of the challenge can be daunting, but panel moderator David Jones, President and CEO of Community Service Society, sounded a message of optimism. "I don't know if a decade ago we could gather this many people together to talk about this as a critical issue," he told an audience that had filled both auditorium and overflow room. "This is obviously a pivotal moment where people are taking this seriously."

Join Jeff Madrick, Director of Rediscovering Government, at the Frances Perkins Center in Portland, ME on October 4 for "Rediscovering Government: Making People Matter." The Frances Perkins Center will present Ai-jen Poo with its Intelligence and Courage Award and Sally Greenberg with its Steadfast Award, and Madrick will moderate a panel discussion. More information here.

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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The Digital Divide is Holding Young New Yorkers Back

Sep 18, 2013Nell Abernathy

New York City public school students in lower-income neighborhoods suffer from very slow Internet speeds. Our next mayor can help.

It's clear that the Internet is a vitally important resource for education, innovation, and opportunity. And we know that 21st century kids need it to write papers, apply to colleges, and find jobs (not just to watch videos of kittens playing with string).

New York City public school students in lower-income neighborhoods suffer from very slow Internet speeds. Our next mayor can help.

It's clear that the Internet is a vitally important resource for education, innovation, and opportunity. And we know that 21st century kids need it to write papers, apply to colleges, and find jobs (not just to watch videos of kittens playing with string).

Sadly, young New Yorkers have unequal access to the Internet. 75 percent of the city's public schools have Internet speeds of 10 Mbps or slower. When shared with a large number of users, these speeds preclude heavy research downloads, e-reader usage, and educational video-streaming resources. They are also 100 times slower than the target President Obama set for 2020 in the National Broadband Plan.

The red dots in the following graph show that about 18 percent of New York City public schools have networks even slower than 10 Mbps (218 with Internet speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less, and three with 5 Mbps speed). The graph is courtesy of an August report commissioned by Manhattan Bourough President and Comptroller Candidate Scott Stringer.

Unsurprisingly, the public schools with the slowest Internet speeds tend to be in the lowest-income neighborhoods, like the South Bronx and Northeastern Brooklyn, and those with faster speeds tend to be in median- and high-income neighborhoods in Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford was quoted in the Stringer report, reminding us that "[t]ruly high speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.”

For a city at the center of our country's innovation, economic growth, and social communication, inferior Internet speeds at New York's low-income public schools are a clear example of the inequality problem. Luckily, we have clear models for solving this particular public policy challenge. D.C., for example, has invested in delivering an affordable broadband network to 250 public institutions, like libraries, schools, and community centers. Kansas City, in partnership with Google, is offering every household access to 1 GB (1,000 Mbps) fiber networks at subsized rates. What will our next mayor do?

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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To Restore the New Deal, Government Must Earn Young Americans’ Trust

Aug 29, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

The Greater Boston network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline hosted a discussion on the State of the New Deal, and what needs to change for Millennials to support similar programs today.

The Greater Boston network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline hosted a discussion on the State of the New Deal, and what needs to change for Millennials to support similar programs today.

On Tuesday night, the Greater Boston network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline gathered for a panel discussion on “The State of the New Deal,” reflecting on President Roosevelt's historic achievements and considering what could come next. Pipeline, a national network of young people in their 20s and 30s collectively organizing to engineer innovative policies and promote effective civic leadership in their communities, convened a multigenerational panel to discuss what’s become of the New Deal safety net, and what would be needed to create similar programs today.

The program opened with David Woolner, a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Resident Hyde Park Historian, providing some historical context: FDR's legacy, the political environment of the day, and how the New Deal was perceived when it was happening. One of the most important thing he noted was that FDR worked in a far less politically divided era: some of the strongest supporters of New Deal programs were moderate Republicans. It’s much harder to pass any legislation in today’s Congress.

Following his keynote, Woolner joined Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz and Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist Joelle Gamble for a panel moderated by Roosevelt Institute President Felicia Wong, where they expanded the discussion to today's issues: health care, student debt, Occupy, low-wage work, and more. They probed at the relationship between Americans and their government today, which is often one of distrust and skepticism. As Woolner explained, with the dismantling of much of the New Deal in the Reagan era, government was no longer a creator of economic opportunity.

Aronowitz focused on the question of economic security, posing the question of why Millennials should trust government to work for them. “They're craving … this baseline of economic security,” and aren't seeing any way to get it, she said. Were government to help create that baseline, it would be easier to see the potential for other New Deal-style programs. She was also skeptical of the Occupy movement, noting that while the Tea Party and Occupy are frequently compared as political extremes, the anti-establishment and anti-leadership nature of Occupy means that they have limited political power. Meanwhile, Tea Party Republicans like Ted Cruz work against more moderate policymakers to prevent legislation and control the right's agenda.

Gamble presented the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's “Government By and For Millennial America” project as proof that it is possible to create a government that would speak to Millennial ideas and needs. This government would be an innovator, a lawmaker, and a steward of the common good, and would truly engage all citizens. Unfortunately, she noted, for most Millennials their first real encounter with government systems is with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and federal student loans. FAFSA is often seen as a frustrating system, and student loan servicers as even worse. Woolner noted in his introduction that “what Roosevelt accomplished was a complete transformation of the relationship between the federal government and the American people,” and it's hard to imagine a similarly positive relationship today – especially if the student loan system is how people form their impression of government.

The question and answer session demonstrated the insight and engagement of the audience. The Affordable Care Act was a topic of serious discussion, and Aronowitz pointed out that for many middle-class Millennials, it doesn't seem to help much. Woolner passed the mic to James Roosevelt Jr., Franklin and Eleanor’s grandson and an attorney who works on health care, who argued that “if Obamacare succeeds, it will be the New Deal success of our lifetime.” His comment echoed one of the common themes that threaded through the discussion: Millennials need some proof that these programs will help before they will buy in fully. If the Affordable Care Act does lower costs and make insurance more accessible, it could lead to broader support of other programs, like infrastructure-based jobs programs.

After the event, I spoke with some attendees who are involved in Boston-area politics. They seemed to mostly agree: buy-in is tough. Creating change is tough. But the people I spoke to and those posing questions seemed determined to work together and create something new. They want to trust in government to create the safety net needed for that baseline of economic security that Aronowitz brought up early on. They want government to demonstrate that it’s ready to be an equal partner in decreasing economic inequality. It’s just a matter of figuring out the next steps toward that goal.

For more information on Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, visit their website. The Pipeline | New York network will be hosting a screening of the documentary “My Brooklyn” on September 16th at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Rachel Goldfarb is the Roosevelt Institute Communications Associate.

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New Orleans's Youth Unemployment Problem Demands a Government Solution

Aug 22, 2013Jeff MadrickNell Abernathy

The federal government has let New Orleans down in the past, but it can still provide equal opportunity for the city's next generation.

The federal government has let New Orleans down in the past, but it can still provide equal opportunity for the city's next generation.

Our federal government has failed New Orleans more dramatically than any other U.S. city, and the growing number of unemployed and undereducated young adults is one more example of our failure to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity for all. With 23 percent of 18-24 year olds neither working nor in school, New Orleans’s rate of youth disconnection from social institutions far exceeds the national average. Nevertheless, cynicism is not a solution. Creating new opportunities for young Americans will require us to use every tool at our disposal, and that includes active and effective government.

These “opportunity youth," ages 16-24, are more likely than their peers to be poor and unemployed as adults. Neglecting these young people costs New Orleans taxpayers hundreds of millions in lost income annually and billions over a lifetime.

Maybe more important, these young people are deprived of the fundamental dignity of work and education. Still, most remain motivated to succeed. 85 percent say that it is extremely important to have a good job or career in order to live the life they want,and most opportunity youth are willing to work toward their goals, with 77 percent agreeing that getting a good job or good education is their personal responsibility, according to a 2011 survey conducted by Civic Enterprises.

With government missing in action, a network of effective non-profit organizations is leading the effort to equip these young people with the skills and support they need. In just seven years, New Orleans’s Youth Empowerment Project has grown from a small program serving 25 children to a locally renowned organization helping close to 1,000 at-risk youth a year. The Urban League of Greater New Orleans is expanding mentoring and training programs designed to connect teens with trade or college education. And Partnership for Youth Development, which coordinates over 180 local programs to better serve these opportunity youth, was selected by the Aspen Institute in June to pilot strategies that could be employed nationwide.

By contrast, consider how derelict the federal government has been. Funding cuts from sequestration have cut education by $3 billion and decimated early education and after-school programs. Congress has dithered over reducing interest rates for student loans and cut eligibility for critical Pell grants, specifically barring around 65,000 of the most at-risk students. The government has failed to fund its 2009 commitment to expand the successful AmeriCorps programs from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017, resulting in 85 percent of the 2012 applicants being turned away. 

Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute is hosting a public panel with local organizations in New Orleans to help formulate a policy that will serve young people nationwide. Because as effective as private funders, local non-profits, and national organizations are, the scale and breadth of the challenge demands public solutions.

Disappointment with our government’s past failures is understandable, but the anti-government movement too often blinds Americans to our shared goals and responsibilities. We forget our history of achieving great works together. As a nation, we decided way back in the 1800s to support our young people by outlawing child labor and establishing free primary school. We tackled youth unemployment during the Great Depression with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government program that directly employed nearly 3 million young men over nine years. We sent 2.2 million veterans to college on the G.I. Bill and gave our young people opportunities through national service programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and the Job Corps. These are but a few examples.

We must now, once again, use our government as a tool to restore the promise of equal opportunity to our youth. Join us as we seek solutions to one of our nation’s most pressing challenges.

In New Orleans? Join the Roosevelt Institute tonight at 6 p.m. at the Contemporary Arts Center for "Tackling Youth Unemployment: Strategies That Work in New Orleans." The event is free and open to the public.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

Nell Abernathy is a Research Initiative Associate for the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

 

New Orleans at sunset banner image via Shutterstock.com

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The Jobs Emergency Continues. Here’s How the Experts Think We Can Solve It.

Aug 22, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative's conference, "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," which now has transcripts and video online, was just the first step.

The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative's conference, "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," which now has transcripts and video online, was just the first step.

When the Roosevelt Institute’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, led by Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick, started planning a conference on the jobs emergency, we knew a problem so complex demanded a wide range of perspectives and potential solutions. “A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: Setting the Political Agenda for 2014 and 2016,” which was held in Washington, D.C. on June 4, touched on everything from the roles of government and Wall Street in job creation to education to what good jobs really look like. Economist Alan Blinder said that we need to stop worrying about the deficit, and Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin shared her concerns about low quality jobs after a visit to a local job fair. If you missed out the first time, we’ve now uploaded proceedings from the conference along with full transcripts and video.

As the summer draws to a close and the fall budget debates approach, we’ve continued to see difficult news relating to jobs. North Carolina may join the ranks of states that ban cities and counties from enacting local paid sick leave requirements. We’ve seen just how few jobs in big cities pay the wages needed to actually live in that city. Formerly good jobs are turning into part-time and contract work without benefits or stability. The policies that were suggested at the conference aren’t being implemented yet, but they are sorely needed.

Rediscovering Government’s work on jobs continues. If you missed the conference, I encourage you to check out the panel summaries and transcripts. There’s so much to learn from our speakers and panelists. Jeff Madrick will be joining Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline in New Orleans tonight to discuss youth unemployment, and more events are coming!

Rachel Goldfarb is the Roosevelt Institute Communications Associate.

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The U.S. Lacks Good Jobs, Not Good Ideas

Jun 17, 2013Jeff Madrick

A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency brought together leading policymakers, thinkers, and activists to discuss how we can get the U.S. to full employment and create more good jobs, but that was only the beginning of the conversation.

A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency brought together leading policymakers, thinkers, and activists to discuss how we can get the U.S. to full employment and create more good jobs, but that was only the beginning of the conversation.

Our jobs conference in early June covered a wide variety of potential solutions to what we call the jobs emergency, from major macro policies to local activist ones. Given how little is done in Washington to solve the problem, it is stunning how many good ideas are out there.      

Senator Tom Harkin, who has sponsored the most comprehensive jobs bill in Congress, set the stage with a keynote address that made no bones about it: we are not creating enough good jobs in America -- not by a long shot. Perhaps his key point of many was that we don’t have to choose between closing the budget deficit and making goods jobs. “Smart policies designed to reduce unemployment will also act to reduce the deficit,” he said. If we grow, create goods jobs that pay high wages, and encourage investment, the deficit will also fall, as it always has before when economies recovery strongly. It’s a win-win.

But Washington is stymying progress. That's why, he said, we must end the filibuster.

Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, assured us there is no deficit problem for the next 10 years, so we shouldn’t be focusing on it. Several of our macroeconomists called for much more fiscal stimulus.

One cause of job deficits may well be Wall Street itself. Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO talked about how Wall Street has misdirected investment from productive uses. Rosemary Batt of Cornell University discussed how privatization puts downward pressure on wages and jobs. Bill Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts Lowell stressed how cash-rich companies use money to buy back shares rather than invest in America.

Participants in the conference talked about creating jobs through infrastructure investment, community investments, and outright job creation by the federal government a la FDR. Others discussed the need to raise labor standards and enforce the existing labor laws.

Local activists offered refreshing perspective. Maya Wiley of the Center for Social Inclusion said we must not think that one-size-fits-all solutions are good enough. We have to bore down to the particulars. Ai Jen Poo wondered why we have so many unemployed when we have so many needs. For example, there is a desperate need for adequately paid care workers. Why can’t we get supply and demand to come together?

And Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin told us of her disappointing experience at a local jobs fair, where she saw the poor quality of jobs being offered. She asked the room why so many poor jobs were being created, and how long will this go on.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who also had a job creation bill before Congress, summed up the issue. “This is the seminal battle of our time," she told the conference. “A battle for our economy, a battle for fairness, a battle for the heart and soul of our country. This is a battle that has to be waged all around the country.”     

We at Rediscovering Government will make the jobs emergency our number one priority. Videos of the conference panels and keynotes are now available on our web site. We will also publish transcripts and eventually produce a book on the best jobs ideas in the country. We will provide background papers on policy proposals we make. Everyone in the nation should have a decent job if he or she wants one. As far as we are concerned, it’s one of our inalienable rights.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

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Daily Digest - June 12: Economic Nostalgia

Jun 12, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email

George Packer's U.S.A. (TAP)

In his review of The Unwinding, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Mark Schmitt examines how the novel can help us understand the effects of the financial crisis. Nostalgia for better economic times rules the day, and the book struggles to look forward.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email

George Packer's U.S.A. (TAP)

In his review of The Unwinding, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Mark Schmitt examines how the novel can help us understand the effects of the financial crisis. Nostalgia for better economic times rules the day, and the book struggles to look forward.

Is a democratic surveillance state possible? (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal wonders if this concept is as oxymoronic as a cuddly hand grenade, but in a world where surveillance is so far reaching, democracy may be our only hope to check that power.

Fairness Doctrine (Democracy)

Timothy Noah thinks that we can't tie economics to morality in all cases, but when we do, we need to admit that moral policies won’t be fair for everyone. Part of our societal bargain must be that if you're doing well, you pay more to help those who aren't.

Revenue Blues: The Case for Higher Taxes (Dissent)

In four charts, Colin Gordon explains why we can and should increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and on corporate income in order to sustain the society we want to see and reduce poverty.

Pushed Off The Job While Pregnant (NPR)

Jennifer Ludden reports for All Things Considered on the discrimination that routinely happens against low-wage pregnant workers, despite the fact that it is illegal. Could there be a worse time to lose a job than during a pregnancy?

Betting Against the Future: How Industry Loses When Interns Go Unpaid (ProPublica)

Intern Hanna Trudo writes on the intern economy, specifically how unpaid internships harm the talent pool available in certain fields. Her current role at ProPublica is the first time she's been paid a living wage since graduating in 2011.

Judge Rules That Movie Studio Should Have Been Paying Interns (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports that yesterday's ruling stated that the benefits unpaid interns got, "such as résumé listings [and] job references," were incidental to the value they gave their employer. The studio disagrees, because paying interns would throw off their multi-million dollar budgets.

Republicans to Wage 30-Year Budget War (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait is astonished that Senate Republicans are suggesting that we must fight the deficit based on 30-year projections when we can't accurately predict five years out (the 2008 prediction for 2012 showed a surplus).

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Bored by the Jobs Numbers? We Need a Bold Solution.

Jun 7, 2013

This morning's new jobs numbers contained few surprises, and given the mediocre, low-wage recovery the U.S. has experienced for the last few years, that's a problem. On Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative hosted "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," a daylong conference that discussed how this crisis of prolonged unemployment and underemployment came about and how we might fix it.

This morning's new jobs numbers contained few surprises, and given the mediocre, low-wage recovery the U.S. has experienced for the last few years, that's a problem. On Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative hosted "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," a daylong conference that discussed how this crisis of prolonged unemployment and underemployment came about and how we might fix it. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Rediscovering Government Director Jeff Madrick gave Next New Deal readers a preview of the discussion earlier this week, and Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch noted that the focus was not just on more jobs, but on quality jobs: “jobs that provide decent pay and benefits and the flexibility to be able to take care of one’s family.”

The conference was covered on the Campaign for America’s Future blog, where Derek Pugh provided a comprehensive summary of the day. MarketWatch also published dueling op-eds in response to the conference, with panelist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute arguing that too much emphasis was placed on government and journalist Rex Nutting contending that the structural impediments to hiring that Furchtgott-Roth highlights have been around for ages -- and that in the end, we need government stimulus to create new jobs and increase demand.

Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin’s comments proved to be a highlight of the conference. Governor Raskin spoke on the lunch plenary, “Paving the Way for Good Jobs,” moderated by Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz. She discussed how she realized that most of the jobs being added to the economy are terrible after a visit to a local job fair. Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post all covered Raskin’s presence, and Reuters also noted that the stock market was jittery about what Raskin might say – perhaps more evidence of the “Jurassic Park problem” with Fed policy that Roosevelt Institute Mike Konczal recently pointed out.

Stay tuned for video from the event coming soon, and keep following the #jobsemergency conversation on Twitter!

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How Can We Solve the Jobs Emergency? A Q&A with Jeff Madrick

May 17, 2013Cathy Harding

On June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute will bring together leading thinkers, activists, and policymakers for A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: Setting the Political Agenda for 2014 and 2016, a daylong conference in Washington, D.C. that will focus on America's desperate need for more and better jobs. Recently, Cathy Harding, Roosevelt's VP of Operations and Communications, sat down with Jeff Madrick, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Rediscovering Government initiative, to discuss his goals for the conference and his thoughts on what we can and must do to address the ongoing jobs crisis.

On June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute will bring together leading thinkers, activists, and policymakers for A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: Setting the Political Agenda for 2014 and 2016, a daylong conference in Washington, D.C. that will focus on America's desperate need for more and better jobs. Recently, Cathy Harding, Roosevelt's VP of Operations and Communications, sat down with Jeff Madrick, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Rediscovering Government initiative, to discuss his goals for the conference and his thoughts on what we can and must do to address the ongoing jobs crisis.

Cathy Harding: At the upcoming Rediscovering Government conference titled “A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency,” you’re going to make the case that solving the jobs emergency requires a comprehensive approach. Is that a new perspective on job creation? In other words, what needs to be included as part of a meaningful response that has not be included before?

Jeff Madrick: I think it basically is a new approach. I think people have their one or two favorites. Mainstream economists almost solely talk about education; in fact, there is a quote from Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz of Harvard in a Mike Milken Institute publication that says, yes things like minimum wage and unionization may matter, but they really don’t matter very much. It’s almost all education, or Raghuram Rajan, who is a well-known Chicago economist, says the big problem is education. I think even left-wing economists will say the big problem is education. In my view it is one of many problems.

There are bills out there that are moderately comprehensive, like Tom Harkin’s bill, and he’s going talk about that.

Minimum wage contributes too, and de-unionization contributes to it. I think the lack of enforcement of the employment laws contributes to it, which has been serious.

We don’t pay any attention to job training programs in a serious way, aside from college education.

I think there are issues about health insurance that have to be talked about; there are issues about Wall Street, in particular, that are almost totally ignored by Washington, D.C. Wall Street’s impact on suppressing good jobs has been very serious, and it’s not part of any of these bills. So I think all of these matter.

And finally, government investment in infrastructure and new technologies are job creators.

CH: What happens if you don’t approach the jobs crisis across many planes?

JM: We are going to continue to generate fewer jobs than we should, and we won’t generate enough jobs that pay well. That’s a big deal. We are already in a very serious hole merely on the number of jobs, but the quality of jobs, in terms of wages they pay, and in terms of benefits like retirement and health insurance, is stunningly bad.

CH: So you are saying that without a multi-pronged approach to the jobs issue, it is just going to get worse?

JM: I think, yeah. I think if we listen to what most economists tell us to do, we would be a very sad country.

CH: So, Jeff, when we read reports that say unemployment is going down, and that jobs are being created, what questions should people be asking about those numbers?

JM: Long-term unemployment, that is, people who can’t get jobs for 6 months or more, is very high. It has been setting records for a long time now. So yes, there is a slight improvement in the unemployment rate, but it is not nearly enough. What are the reasons for that? Part of it is slow economic growth in itself. Why do we have slow economic growth? Probably the single most important reason, but not only reason, is high levels of debt that are held over from the mortgage boom. So slow growth contributes to that lack of rapid job creation, but so do these other factors, including Wall Street and pressure on wages by business. Some of it generated by Wall Street needs and stock market needs, some of it generated by globalization and the ability to go somewhere else.

CH: So you are not cheered when you see a report that says the unemployment rate is down to 7.5 percent?

JM: All of it has to be in context. I think it suggests, given that the government is taking money out of the economy through this now famous sequestration process, that the economy is stronger than we thought it might be. If only they would get out of the way, we would probably be creating a lot more jobs, but they are not getting out of the way. So that is another issue we have to deal with. So I am cheered that the job situation in the latest reporting month was better than most people thought, given that the government is stepping on the breaks and we are still moving.

CH: You talked about it not just being a matter of jobs, but the question of good jobs. The students involved in Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network through their Government By and For Millennial America report have identified that quality of jobs as being a very important issue for the country as a whole, and their generation. Can you specify what a bold approach might look like, specifically for the generation just coming onto the job market?

JM: Young people are getting the tail end of what is a pretty crummy job market for almost everybody. So to tailor a jobs program for the very young probably requires a variety of different types of policies. Still, going to college enables you to at least get a job, even if it is not a good job. A lot of people who go to college have to take jobs where you don’t really need a college education. So is there a simple answer – go get a college education? It is a negative answer. Don’t not get a college education.

We may have to tailor jobs programs run by the government to hire young people. It may come to that. We might need job-hiring programs by the government in the end. And we can’t neglect that idea, or keep it out of sight because we haven’t done for so long, or because “it is not the private market.” The big crisis is for the young people.

If you get a bad- or lower-paying job at 25, it probably affects your earning power for the rest of your life. So it is a pretty serious issue.

CH: You have written a lot about what you call “the age of greed.” Is there is a cultural aspect to this current jobs crisis?

JM: I haven’t thought about that sufficiently. I think there is now too easy an acceptance that people won’t get good jobs and that the future may not be very good. That’s rather a new thing in America. One of my favorite stories is from Fernand Braudel, the historian, who says, way back who knows when, a Frenchman wrote a letter from Wyoming or somewhere like that. He said, “You can’t believe what they are doing in this town. They are building City Hall a mile from where we all live, and where the town center now is. Why? Because they’re so optimistic the town is going to grow so much that will be the new center.” I don’t think we have much of that kind of optimism. Ironically, the great so-called optimistic president, Ronald Reagan, in my view, was the guy who made us all pessimists -- that we can’t rely on government to make things better and that all we have to do is have good thoughts and things will get better on their own. So now that I think about it and you brought it up, I think there is a pessimism that’s taking root in our society that is very dangerous. I don’t think if you talk to people who are 35 now and have children that they are extremely optimistic about prospects for their children. 

CH: The closing panel at the jobs conference will address momentum building. What can people expect to take away from that?

JM: I think that most of us don’t think that a jobs conference or a well-written jobs proposal is immediately going to result in action. I think we have to win people over with argument, and persuasion, and facts, and a sense of what is really at stake here. And I think that’s what building momentum is about. One can say, “Win over one person at a time, and then eventually you get a movement.” It is something like that. And I think that is what Rediscovering Government is going have to be dedicated to. We are not going go down there and change the world on June 4th, but we want to lay the groundwork for fighting the ongoing battle. And indeed, laying the groundwork and setting the political agenda for the elections of 2014, and especially 2016. We want to influence elections. We want a job-creating President and a job-creating Congress.

The full agenda for the June 4th conference is now available online. Click here to learn more about the speakers and RSVP today.

 

Job search image via Shutterstock.com

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How to Pensa 2040: Italy's Millennials Share Their Blueprint for Change

May 13, 2013Alan Smith

An Italian offshoot of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network shows that Millennial policy priorities reach across national borders.

An Italian offshoot of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network shows that Millennial policy priorities reach across national borders.

In 2010, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network created the Blueprint for Millennial America, a generational vision for the country we hoped to see by the year 2040. In the conversations that established the backbone of the blueprint, we identified a core set of values shared by Millennials. The top three -- a deeply held concern for equity, a respect for the individual and society, and a belief in community empowerment and self-determination – represent a commonality that we think underlines what is unique about this generation of Americans. We are a group that seeks self-empowerment and strives to improve our society, but not always through the traditional power structures.

Over the last year, a similar project has been taking root on university campuses and among active Millennials – except this time it’s in Italy, where students have stepped up to take charge of their country’s uncertain future. “Pensa 2040” has taken the values-based collective ethos of the Roosevelt Blueprint and the Budget for Millennial America but introduced an Italian perspective. More than a thousand Italians have participated in conversations similar to those that built the Blueprint, and a Millennial vision for Italy is coming into focus.

If we’ve learned anything at the Campus Network, it’s that ownership of the process is equally as important as ownership of the outcomes. From what we’ve seen so far, the leaders of the Pensa 2040 process have carried on the successes of the Thinks 2040 framework by being willing and able to customize their discussions for the people in the room and the issues that are near and dear to their hearts. Holding discussions that engage people through the fundamental framework of values, and in so doing asks participants to examine which issues they truly believe are the most important, can yield a deeper and more lasting engagement on the issues that the community decides on together. 

So, what happened in Pensa 2040? The top-ranked value listed by the Italian Millennials reveals a clear difference between our two cultures: a deeply held respect for the idea of “legality.” This concept, rooted in Italy’s ongoing problems with the mafia and organized crime, extends to ending tax evasion and corruption within government. The very fact that the idea of legality would be a core value reveals a desire for order that is not at the forefront of many Americans’ minds. Still, some of the outcomes that students hope for in this category include a fair tax system and a more effective and fair legal system – important underpinnings of the Government By and For Millennial America discussion. 

It is in the second and third values expressed by the Italian students that we find a direct match with their American counterparts: equality and respect for the rights of the person. These essentially match word for word the underpinnings of the American Blueprint, and we find kinship with a generation focused on an absolute right to citizenship, same-sex marriages, and “civil service for all” (outcomes under “Uguaglianza”) as well as a right to health and full access to the sorts of “primary goods” that people need to be active and successful citizens (outcomes listed under “Rispetto per i diritti della persona”). There is something here, direct and definable, that speaks to a global generational identity. 

This sympathetic outlook makes sense: there are more and more shared experiences for people across borders and oceans. Not only could we jump on Skype to hear the results of the Pensa 2040 discussions, but many of the core issues facing Millennial Italians are the same issues facing American students in the Campus Network. Global climate change, economic uncertainty, and the challenges of a consistently volatile yet ever-more-interconnected world mean that the experience of being young often establishes a stronger bond than the experience of being “American” or “European.” While the 39 percent youth unemployment rate in Italy dwarfs the 17 percent unemployment rate for American youth, both countries are experiencing talk of a “lost generation,” and anyone trying to get a job out of college right now can tell you that unemployment is only a part of a bitter cocktail that includes low-wage jobs and student debt.  The economic example serves to highlight a greater truth: that a generational movement is real and important. 

Pensa 2040 has moved from the conversation stages to the building of a values-based blueprint for Italy. Students are working with other stakeholders now to write policy recommendations for Italy going forward, and to follow in the footsteps of the Campus Network by creating a crowd-sourced and collaborative budget for Italy that tackles their ongoing economic woes from a place of shared values. We’re excited that Italian students have taken on a part of our brand of collective discussions and are using it to build something equally as empowering and exciting for themselves. Look for a Blueprint for Millenario Italia entro il 2014! 

Alan Smith is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Policy and Program Director.

 

"Made in Italy" image via Shutterstock.com

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