The economy has taken on this mystical haze in recent years. Conservative pundits are decrying an apocalyptic economy despite the falling unemployment rate and reduction in federal deficit, all while Democrats are boasting of 60-plus months of jobs being added to the American economy — they are glossing over the fact that the jobs are lower paying than before. Who’s right? Eh, depends on which party you will be caucusing for. But there is one thing that I think uncontroversial about the economy, and it is the cracks apparent in the system. It’s normal for there to be some unemployment in a capitalist economy; it is even considered healthy. Yet, it is important to acknowledge that a system based upon unequal distribution of goods will lead to some falling through the cracks of the system. I think it is the government’s role to fill those cracks and to make sure that no one suffers too greatly at the hands of progress, and I am saying today that the government is shirking its responsibility. Instead of intervening and hoping to fix the inadequacies of capitalism, government officials sit by and watch as students, workers, and the aspiring masses flounder to find their way forward and upward.
First, the issue of the uneducated. In times past, John and Jane would get married in their young twenties and at least start to build a family. John would go off to the factory for work, bringing home a good family wage, and Jane would stay at home taking care of home and family. Today, though, John wouldn’t be able to find a factory job like he could 50 years ago. To blame is capitalism, as it rewards both business owner and consumer to cut the cost of production in order to lower prices; as prices go lower, demand goes up, and the cycle of creative-destruction continues. The problem in this equation is that while prices do lower, and consumers benefit from lower prices, the worker is screwed out of a pay check. Whether good or bad, that is up to you to decide, but it needs to be remembered that cheap prices come at the expense of American labor.
The second issue, then, is finding another means for a middle-income job. Enter the importance of an education. If your family, school, or social community was anything like mine, then you have already had it beaten into you just how important an education is for higher wages later in life. The data does not lie on this matter: study after study has shown that more education means more money. It wouldn’t be government if there weren’t a looming catastrophe, because American college students are collectively $1.2 trillion in debt—$1 trillion of which is owned by the Federal Government. This incredibly large amount of debt is called the education bubble, and much like in 2008 with the sub-prime mortgage bubble, the education bubble is going to burst at some point, and if you think that the government collecting taxes is bad, wait until they come to collect their loans.
By now it should be apparent that something has to change so that everything doesn’t just blow up. My greatest concern is that our generation, as well as the generations of our elders, will stick to what has been ingrained in them, which is the submission to the freedom of property and free enterprise. If we continue down the road of more profits and more savings, we will eventually see the economic impacts of what too much freedom—and too little regulation—looks like. At some point, there needs to be an acknowledgment that our economy is in transition, moving from a strong manufacturing-based economy of the ’50s-’70s, to a more specialized service-based economy of the neo-liberal era.
Right now there is an entire demographic, the blue-collar working American, that is being totally ignored. The blue-collar worker keeps seeing their salary slashed, their savings lessened, and their economic opportunities dimmed with each day. Once they are finally laid off, they have nowhere to go. To go back to school means to take on debt that you may not be able to afford, and if you are unemployed in your mid-to-late 50s, many companies will look the other way since you are so close to retirement.
Students and workers alike, sometimes being one and the same, are footing the bill of today’s economy. We have to fill in the cracks, to acknowledge and help those that are in need. A restructuring of how the government handles student loans is something that needs to be done ASAP. As the loans program is a part of the federal budget, the government depends on the program as a means of funds, and there will be a time where funds fall short and someone — whether government or people — will foot the bill. After restructuring the federal loans program, further investment into jobs training programs need to be made. The economy is ever changing, and the workforce must change with it, because former factory workers cannot be ignored, but need to be reintegrated. But more than anything else, there needs to be a realization that the American economy is intertwined and interdependent. Consumers need businesses to buy from, workers need jobs to support their families, and businesses seek to satisfy both consumers and workers. It’s almost funny how much our economic paradoxes look like the college student’s paradox of choosing between sleep, good grades, or a social life with the option to pick only two. It will be curious to see which two will be picked: consumer interest, worker interest, or business interest?