The Road to Good Jobs

America needs more good jobs at good wages. The combination of deregulation, global low-wage competition, and the attack on unions has reduced the supply of reliable jobs with decent wages, benefits, and career prospects. This shift comes at a time when other
social supports have been cut. Any serious student of this subject knows two things. First, there is no single silver bullet. Second, any good jobs strategy needs to be anchored in politics -- and a very different politics than the dominant one.

With a different politics, we could have a national strategy of investment
in new technologies, such as energy-sufficiency, promoting not just clean-energy security but good domestic jobs. We could restore the right of workers to bargain collectively, and unions could again lead the way to a society of decent breadwinner wages. We could decide that all human-service jobs financed with public funds would be not low-wage, high-turnover jobs, but professions that were part of career tracks with decent wages. We could use the leverage of public outlay to create good, permanent private-sector jobs.

We could change the rules of the trading system so that trade did not produce a race to the bottom for workers here and overseas. We could link education and training strategies to actual rather than hypothetical good jobs, with what our Scandinavian friends call an active labor market policy. We could run our economy at or near full employment. We could have comprehensive immigration reform, with immigrants on the road to full citizenship rather than being a reserve low-wage army with no labor or civic rights.

The recent structural changes in the global economy, reducing labor's bargaining power and lowering labor costs for multinational corporations, are not some spontaneous result of technological changes or of foreign trade per se. Rather, they are the result of a specific brand of globalization that privileges property rights, while deliberately undercutting the social and labor rights that anchor the managed form of capitalism that has produced greater security and equality in most of the wealthy democracies.

Some of what America needs to promote development of good jobs is at odds with the current rules of the international trading system, most of them promoted by the U.S. government. For instance, if we embarked on an Apollo-scale program using public investment to create a new high-tech renewable energy industry that would produce exports as well as good domestic jobs, this strategy could well be challenged as illegal under the World Trade Organization.

At issue is not just the prevailing politics, but also the dominant paradigm of minimal government. A key question is how education and training interact with other necessary public policies. A better-educated, more highly skilled workforce is certainly part of the solution, but not the whole remedy. As all three authors of the following articles explain in different ways, simply commending more education paints with too broad a brush. The practical question is: What kind of education and training will rendezvous with what kind of jobs? Otherwise, a better-educated workforce will still find itself in an economy that fails to adequately reward skills. America does need more people to get degrees in math and science, so that these good jobs and the industries they support go to Americans rather than moving overseas. And we do need to make sure that young people finish high school well prepared for further learning. But improved human capital, by itself, doesn't necessarily alter the kinds of jobs the economy offers workers. What else do we need to do?


The three articles that follow illuminate this question, and begin an ongoing series on good jobs that will appear over the next year. Joan Fitzgerald, author of the recent book, Moving Up in the New Economy, begins by looking at paths to better jobs in human services, as well as the role of economic development. Harold Meyerson, our longtime senior writer on labor and the Prospect's acting executive editor, looks at the role of unions and community groups in promoting good jobs via community benefits agreements. Princeton economist and former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder examines the offshoring threat to service as well as manufacturing jobs, and strategies for keeping good jobs at home. Professor Blinder was one of the first economists to challenge the orthodox view that trade has a trivial effect on wages and employment.

Upcoming articles will include a roundtable on the role of education as well as pieces on new rules for the trading system, on immigrant workers, and on other economic development strategies. We thank the Ford Foundation for supporting our work on good jobs and economic development, and The Atlantic Philanthropies for supporting our work on immigration.

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