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New Markle Foundation Book Points the Way Forward On Education and Opportunity

Despite rapid innovations in technology in the last decade, America, and in particular the middle class, is still muddled in an economic slowdown.
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Despite rapid innovations in technology in the last decade, America, and in particular the middle class, is still muddled in an economic slowdown. For every report of hundred million dollar New York homes or unicorn tech companies, there are still realities like the fact that U.S. households have a lower median income than they did in 1996 (America's Moment, p. 25). About half of U.S. households have a real income of about $52,000, a number that hasn't changed since the 1980s (Ibid). Almost 46 million Americans are on food stamps. What is going on?

The Markle Foundation's working group, Rework America, has just a released a new book, America's Moment, which explains and provides solutions to the crisis. At over 400 pages (e-book) America's Moment is not just remarkable for its thoroughness in addressing the questions the country faces, but also for its intellectual diversity: thinkers like Mitch Daniels (former Governor of Indiana), John Engler (former Governor of Michigan and head of the Business Roundtable), Cory Booker (U.S. Senator), Madeline Albright (former Secretary of State), Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce), and Howard Schultz (Founder/CEO of Starbucks) all helped brainstorm the ideas that the book contains.

Markle Foundation CEO Zoe Baird addresses the question of economic stagnation upfront, suggesting that various factors like the decoupling of productivity from income and employment and toward technology has left many workers behind. Outsourcing manufacturing to foreign companies has also hurt many workers. But America's Moment also highlights a number of viable solutions for rebooting America's economy. For one thing, we need more investment in main street America. Billions of dollars in unspent capital is currently sitting on the sidelines, capital which is not flowing to early-stage companies, or even small businesses in your local neighborhood. More investment in American businesses, and especially the manufacturing sector, is key to boosting upward mobility for many Americans who have been left behind when the textile mills or coal mines closed. Innovative platforms for financing entrepreneurship like Funding Circle or Kabbage can be helpful in matching funding to business in smarter ways.

Also of great importance is matching jobless Americans to the work opportunities that do exist. There are millions of unfilled jobs in America today simply because the tools to match workers to opportunities have not yet been widely adopted. Employers have problems broadcasting opportunities to workers, and workers have problems finding the right opportunities. Harnessing the power of data analytics to match workers and employers would go a long way in helping to eliminate the "skills gap" that American businesses routinely decry. The sector of the economy especially in need of alignment, claims America's Moment, is the middle-skill sector: millions of middle-skill IT and related jobs are going unfilled due to uncertain credentials and inferior job database sites. As I suggest on page 416 (e-book), evidence-based employment decision-making tools like the Viridis platform are extremely helpful in uniting the different elements of the "employment triangle."

America's Moment can feel a little overwhelming with a great deal of technical discussion about statistics like interest rates, GDP, and labor participation rates. But underneath some very academic ideas about how to reinvigorate America is a concern for how we can improve the human condition through technology. It is this kind of non-partisan focus on scalable solutions that will let us avoid sinking deeper into stagnation.

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