An economy that works for everyone
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For decades, the American dream has embodied the idea that with hard work, Americans could buy a home, educate their children, have access to quality health care, and enjoy a financially secure retirement. That dream is increasingly at odds with the reality of an economy that is both global and automated.

Our economy is in the midst of a dramatic transition that is every bit as consequential and transformative as the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s or the digital revolution of the late 20th Century. This transformation will be disruptive, but it can also be enormously beneficial if we are prepared for it. Yet, at the very time that the federal government should be taking steps to make sure we can prosper in the new economy and that prosperity is shared, the Trump administration is doing little or nothing to lay the groundwork for a new century of growth.

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Today’s low unemployment masks the significant changes already well underway, propelled by technological advances that will affect how we think about jobs and the very nature of the workplace. 

Routine, repetitive tasks that were once done by assembly line workers, bank tellers, and telephone operators, are being done by robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence. Lawyers, accountants, stock traders, and even reporters are seeing the automation of aspects of their jobs. These trends are only accelerating – driverless vehicles are on the cusp of broader adoption, potentially displacing millions of taxi drivers and chauffeurs, as well as Uber and truck drivers. 

America has always embraced technological change – and it should be no different today. Technology can ultimately make us more productive and allow us to lead healthier and longer lives. We can also no more curb the drive to innovate than we can stop gravity. But we cannot ignore the fact that new technologies come at a cost, and sometimes that cost is the loss of a person’s livelihood.

New technologies mean workers will have to acquire skills to compete in a new job market. Early education, development of new skills, concentration on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and lifelong learning will all be key components as we prepare people for new types of employment. We need to make access to education and training seamless and affordable, for those at the beginning of their careers and those who have long been part of the workforce.

Technological change also threatens to aggravate the growing gap between rich and poor, with the benefits of automation accruing disproportionately to the wealthy, to the well-educated, and to certain parts of the country. These geographic and equity gaps must be addressed so that the new economy works for everyone in America. Each community and region of the country has its own strengths, which can include local industries, educational institutions, supply networks, and natural resources. The most successful strategies have seen public and private officials come together and map out a plan to develop industry clusters like the Colorado cleantech energy cluster or the Northeast Ohio polymers cluster, and incubate the young companies that create new jobs. 

The federal government has a vital role to play in supporting the regional organizations that make such collaborative partnerships possible. The Economic Development Authority is a federal agency focused on helping ailing regions. But just when it is most needed, the Trump administration proposed the complete elimination of the EDA. They are also trying to dismantle the five federally supported multi-state regional economic development commissions, the largest of which, the Appalachian Regional Commission, funds more than 400 construction projects every year throughout the Appalachian Region. This is a serious mistake — they do important work to ensure that we leave no community behind.

America also needs an updated safety net that is built for the economic realities of the 21st Century. By some estimates, 53 million Americans in 2017 generated income, at least in part, from “freelancing” on platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit. The reality and challenge of a freelance economy is that these workers do not receive company-sponsored benefits.

Benefit plans and employment laws are stuck firmly in the 1900s. For these freelance gigs, there is no Medicare or Social Security contribution from an employer, no health care insurance, no paid sick or family leave, and no retirement program. We need health care, retirement, family and sick leave, and more programs that work in a modern economy, so that benefits are portable and flexible. Only by reimagining how these programs can meet the needs of people as our economy changes and adapts, can we ensure a good quality of life for ourselves and our children.

America has met every economic challenge and found a way to prosper and we can do it again, but it will require a new vision that is sorely lacking in this administration. We must think anew and act anew if we are to save the American dream.

Schiff represents California’s 28th District.