Next Tuesday Nov. 7th, Virginia voters will have a choice between two economic agendas: one invests in our workers and small businesses; the other sacrifices them on the altar of tax cuts for the ultra-rich. This choice could not be clearer.
Under Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia has enjoyed robust economic growth. When he was sworn into office four years ago, our state’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. Today, we’ve brought it down to 3.7 percent – that’s a full half-point below the national average (4.2 percent). McAuliffe also has a stellar track record of recruiting new business to Virginia, including a billion-dollar investment by Facebook in Henrico County that was announced just last month.
But there is still work to be done. More than 1-in-10 Virginians live in poverty, many concentrated in communities of color and rural communities left behind by an economic boom whose gains were not evenly shared. Last year, 83,000 Virginians earned at or below the federal minimum wage while more than twice as many “new-collar” jobs – well-paying jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree – were created by Virginia businesses but went unfilled, leaving a gap that deprives our residents of income and our state of tax revenue.
Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee to succeed Gov. McAuliffe, has a plan to build upon our state’s successes while addressing the aforementioned shortcomings. His campaign calls it the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” plan (or “G3” for short), and it would be a boon to Virginia’s economy.
First, the state would provide all Virginians the ability to get skilled through apprenticeships and community college programs designed to give them the necessary credentials to fill these new-collar jobs. This support would include financial assistance to ensure that good jobs are available to all Virginians regardless of their socio-economic circumstances.
The state would also partner with businesses to ensure that workers are receiving the right training to ensure they get a job upon graduation. These partnerships ensure that public funds will be spent training individuals for real job openings with good pay, rather than overeducating individuals who will still be consigned to low-skill, low-paying work.
Finally, beneficiaries of the program would be expected to give back to their community through a year of service. Northam’s campaign defines this service to include both traditional outlets, such as working for a government or non-profit entity, and more innovative options, such as working for a start up, a small business, or a business in an economically depressed community.
This last component of Northam’s plan is especially important. As a member of Virginia’s Small Business Commission, I know that supporting start-ups and small businesses is the key to keeping our state’s economy innovative and competitive. Moreover, targeting these job opportunities to economically depressed areas of our state helps the rising tide of economic growth lift all boats. Former Vice President Joe Biden agrees, saying at a recent roundtable that Northam’s G3 plan would “provide opportunity and save a whole heckuva lot of people.”
The kind of inclusive growth that Northam’s G3 plan would facilitate is critical to keeping Virginia economically competitive with both the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Guaranteeing economic opportunity and a well-educated workforce to fill new-collar job openings will make Virginia an even more attractive destination for new jobs and business investment. This in turn will help us boost exports for business and wages for workers.
Compare that to the anti-growth agenda being pushed by Northam’s Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie. While Northam’s well-designed G3 agenda is targeted towards workers and small businesses, Gillespie’s expensive tax cut agenda is targeted towards the ultra-rich, giving them tax cuts nearly 50 times larger than those he would give the middle class. If elected, Gillespie would gut public investment, exacerbate income inequality, and hamper economic growth in Virginia just to benefit people like himself and Donald Trump.
Virginia voters could not have a clearer choice in this election. To both continue and improve upon the gains we’ve seen for the past four years under Gov. McAuliffe, they should choose Ralph Northam to succeed him.