Working in the Twenty-First Century: Policies for Economic Growth through Training, Opportunity, and Education

Working in the Twenty-First Century: Policies for Economic Growth through Training, Opportunity, and Education

Working in the Twenty-First Century: Policies for Economic Growth through Training, Opportunity, and Education

Working in the Twenty-First Century: Policies for Economic Growth through Training, Opportunity, and Education

Synopsis

"More and better jobs" is the underlying theme of this insightful new book. David Levine analyzes the current labor market in the U.S. and concludes that social policy must change to cope with the realities of the new economy. Although market forces are now moving U.S. enterprise toward high-skill and flexible workplaces, there is a shortage of workers with adequate skills in problem solving and teamwork. To combat this problem, the author presents an ambitious agenda of lifelong learning that will enable American workers to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the new economic realities. Levine's analysis recommends specific government policies to encourage early childhood education, to improve schools, to help parents finance college, and to help students make the transition from school to work. He also discusses policies that will improve the regulation of workplaces. The book concludes with policy recommendations for individuals changing jobs, as well as for the unemployed, the disabled, and the poor.

Excerpt

The employment relationship, for most people, is the most important economic relationship they will have. It is the major source of income as well as benefits. Public programs, such as Social Security, are tied to the employment relationship. Unlike economic relationships in many other markets, the employment relationship has not been deregulated. Public policies abound in the labor market. Today, there are laws dealing with unions, with the provision of benefit programs, with minimum wages, with safety and health on the job, with retirement, and so on. Many of these laws have been on the books for decades.

But as David Levine points out, the employment relationship is undergoing change. The wage distribution is shifting toward the more skilled and better educated. Employers nowadays complain of skilled-labor shortages; in some cases they turn to Congress and ask for immigration rules to be relaxed so that skilled workers can be obtained from abroad. But despite the shortages in some occupations, real wages have been relatively stagnant since the early 1970s.

Are we condemned to a permanent wide divide between the top and bottom of the wage scale? Can we produce the skills needed for the future, or must we inevitably rely on foreign labor sources to meet those needs? Will our labor regulatory system remain focused on labor markets of the past, dominated by large bureaucratic firms? Or can we adapt to employer demands for more "flexibility" without undermining past gains in working conditions? In short, can we make our economy work better for our employees, their dependents, and -- indeed -- for society as a whole?

Levine argues that schools and training will be major components in a successful adjustment of the American labor market to the new realities. Other government policies must also change. Efforts must be made to improve labor market opportunities for those who have previously remained outside the economic mainstream.

One area in which the United States stands out as a success, especially when compared with developed countries in Europe, is job creation. European countries have tended to see improvements in real wages but stagnation in job creation and difficulties in the transition to work among the young. One view is that American job growth is in fact due to wage stagna-

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