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Solving America’s Workforce Dilemma: A Bipartisan Path Forward


Co-authored by Julian L. Alssid and Kaitlin LeMoine 


a path forward through the countryside


In our earlier blog, Bidenomics and Beyond, we discussed the ambitious strides taken under the Biden administration to impact workforce development. Based on recent polls, it is clear that Bidenomics and the sense of hope and confidence it was meant to provide has fallen flat, especially as voters continue to negatively perceive the state of the U.S. economy. There are many reasons for this discontent, including the tone of news coverage and the impact of political partisanship. However, we believe that candidates in the 2024 presidential election have a unique opportunity to connect with Americans who feel left behind by economic policies by leveling with them through straight talk and offering concrete steps to improve economic well being. 


Past Shortcomings on Both Sides

While President Biden is bearing the brunt of the discontent today, American dissatisfaction with economic policies began over 40 years ago, when income inequality rose significantly and led to the hollowing out of the middle class. Due to a combination of factors, including globalization, technological advancements, and rising skill demands, this period saw the top 1% of earners experiencing a disproportionate increase in income compared to middle and low-wage workers – regardless of which party was in power.​​ This challenge persists today and continues to shape public sentiment about whether public policy is working to improve their wellbeing. 


Initiatives from Democrats and Republicans alike have not substantially increased the jobs and wages needed to improve how Americans feel in many communities. Republicans have long promoted tax cuts to encourage economic growth, but this approach has not created enough viable career opportunities to rebuild the middle class. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in December 2017, which was intended to prompt economic growth, did not lead to a rise in business formation, employment, or median wages in the years immediately following its passing. Democrats have relied more on investment in government programs to lessen the disparity in earnings, but these efforts have also not produced long-term economic gains for middle- and low-wage workers. For example, while Covid relief funds distributed in 2021 were intended to tangibly ease economic burdens for Americans, only 39% of respondents to a Politico/Morning Consult poll indicated that the funds had a meaningful impact on their lives. 


The Path Forward: Solutions Over Talk

Recognizing the concern that so many Americans feel about the state of the economy, progress lies in acknowledging that wage earnings have remained low for the bottom 99% regardless of the party in power. Candidates must use the bully pulpit to articulate the challenges facing many Americans and then their words must lead to action. Presidential candidates from both sides need concrete plans to address the economic stagnation and displacement still facing many Americans and need to show the steps Americans can take to advance. And this is not merely an economic issue. Upgrading job and career prospects reinforces America’s democratic fabric by signaling that all citizens’ aspirations matter and that there are many ways to achieve success.


Examining recent policy initiatives,there have been some steps in the right direction. Republicans have encouraged skills-based hiring and reformed key legislation around workforce training and educational funding. Democrats, through recent workforce enhancement programs, aim to boost skills and opportunities nationwide. But the challenge lies in communicating and delivering on tangible short-term benefits to American citizens, in the form of increased earnings and job opportunities.


Workforce Development - A Unifying Mission

At this time of political division, there are seeds of bipartisan collaboration in the House Education and the Workforce Committee. As evidenced by strong bipartisan support of the Stronger Workforce for America Act and the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, workforce development resonates across political divides. The two Acts aim to improve skill development and expand Pell grant funding to support short-term career training programs. Our conversations with higher education and business leaders anecdotally reveal a similar trend across the country. Workforce development offers common ground for employers, policymakers, and educators to work beyond silos and political differences to develop coordinated pathways through and across their industries for American workers.


We believe that candidates and policymakers who clearly acknowledge past mistakes in policy and practice and outline an actionable, bipartisan workforce strategy stand to gain trust. A clear and robust workforce development plan that articulates how citizens will access education and career pathways will reinvigorate Americans and re-instill a sense of possibility. 


The Time to Deliver Is Now

Election season requires moving beyond rhetoric to address economic concerns felt by everyday Americans. Candidates must recognize previous inadequacies on both sides, then deliver robust workforce development plans that bridge partisan divides, revive hard-hit regions, and restore faith in the political process. Straight talk, focused educational initiatives, and clear results matter. Now is the hour for our candidates to earn trust through their actions.


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