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Game Changers 2019 – Essay Series

Game Changers 2019 – Essay Series

Preparing American Workers for the Jobs of the Future.

Jim Himes, Congress member, U.S. Congress

Economic disruption – the fading of old products, industries, and jobs in favor of new ones – has always been part of the American experience. Over two centuries, farming gave way to the Industrial Revolution, which gave way to a more service-based economy. Throughout these shifts, globalization, dramatic technological advancement, and automation have created immense opportunities and challenges for American workers and policy makers, and the accessibility of the American Dream. Everything has changed except the laws, policies, and support structures that protect and promote American workers in their pursuit of the American Dream.

And more change is coming. While growing industries employ the vast majority of workers in the United States, almost 30 million people (or 21 percent of the U.S. population) still work in professions experiencing employment declines. The critical challenge will be ensuring that people in declining industries are able to transition to those on the rise. Some reports estimate that automation and rapidly advancing technology will be responsible for a loss of 13 million jobs across the United States, but an even bigger impact will be on the tasks performed in existing jobs. These changes will require workers to build new skills and be able to move seamlessly between jobs and across multiple industries.

This is a huge economic and political challenge. Many factors lead to stagnant wages and friction in the labor market, including the diminished negotiating power of workers, outdated regulations, and low rates of new-business formation. These challenges require legislative solutions that empower workers, allow employers to cultivate and retain a skilled workforce, and grow the economy.

As Chair of the New Democrat Coalition, I have brought together my colleagues to offer a set of ideas and policies designed to empower
American workers to compete and thrive in the changing economy. Recently, the New Democrat Coalition launched an Economic Opportunity Agenda: A Future that Works. In it, the coalition lays out a vision for closing the skills and opportunity gap, rethinking the
relationship between employers and workers, and empowering workers and entrepreneurs.

In a world where workers change jobs or industries, or hold multiple jobs at once, legacy employer-provided benefits and protections will likely not meet their needs. We must establish a robust system of portable benefits and expanded safety net protections to provide workers greater flexibility to change fields or employers, return to school, or start their own businesses. This would boost the economy through a stronger, more financially secure workforce.

We believe enacting these policies, and others like them, is critical to ushering in a new age of widespread prosperity and to rebuilding the social and political stability eroded by kitchen-table economic anxiety. We are committed to making sure that the American Dream is available for all Americans. Addressing this unique economic challenge must be the next progressive advance.

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