Texas Leadership and the American Dream: Jobs, Education, and our Children’s Future

You can’t open a newspaper or go online without constant reminders of the necessity of creating jobs or bringing jobs back to the US. In fact, the 2016 Presidential election delivered what many are interpreting as a jobs mandate resulting in a realignment of political affiliation as President Trump won a number of counties that voted for former President Obama in the two previous elections.

But identifying jobs alone as the long term fix for our problems is a gross miscalculation of the underlying challenge we face — the real problem we face is the critical disconnect between tomorrow’s job market and existing training and education priorities.

There’s a dangerous misperception, fueled by election and post-election rhetoric, that the American Dream and the jobs that fuel it are at risk because of trade deals or immigrants. The reality is that the American Dream is at risk from three issues — a lack of leadership and sustained focus on training and education, a lack of bipartisan and multi-stakeholder commitment to reach consensus, and a consistent refusal to recognize that new economic forces are bringing new (not less) opportunity. And it’s going to get worse if we don’t apply resources and focus very soon.

Here in Texas, we’ve enjoyed the “Texas Economic Miracle,” but we can’t sustain our leadership and future growth if we don’t invest more in our people today. Much of our added growth over the last 15 years has a required that Texas import companies and people from other states. But that strategy won’t work for long — we’re facing more competition than ever from those states and our homegrown workforce is hampered by 1970’s-era projections when only 28% of Texas jobs required any kind of post-secondary training or education.

But by 2020, 65% of all new jobs will require postsecondary training and education. Currently, only 40.3% of Texans aged 25–34 have a certificate, associate’s degree or higher. In other words, working under current leadership and expectations, we won’t be able to fuel the future economy of Texas and our nation. And if you think a lot of American’s feel disconnected from the process today, imagine what happens if our economy sheds even more jobs due to autonomous vehicles, digitization and advanced manufacturing.

What can we do about it? Here’s two things: 1- Help change our frame of reference, and 2- Recognize the importance of your Zip Code to impact the availability of relevant education and training for you and your children.

Changing our frame of reference: I recently heard an amazing podcast entitled “Why is my life so hard?” It does a great job explaining that most people will claim to face more headwinds than they really do while failing to appreciate the tailwinds that are actually helping them. By failing to recognize this support for what is working, we too often seek to create blame for what we think is not working. For that reason, in the current landscape of political rhetoric, it’s perhaps not surprising that 35% polled didn’t realize that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the same thing as Obamacare. Through that lens, you can see why people earning under $50,000 a year could enjoy the coverage of ACA, denounce Obamacare, and then vote for President Trump who promised to repeal the Obamacare (in many cases canceling existing healthcare coverage of the same plan, ACA).

Recognizing the importance of your Zip Code: Also during Spring Break, I listened to another podcast, entitled “Is the American Dream Really Dead?. In it, economists break down all the reasons why, despite all indicators showing our country is as productive and innovative as ever, President Trump’s message that “Sadly, the American Dream is dead!” resonates with the American electorate. It often comes down to where a person lives and where they grew up. We set conditions for our children and their future based on the conditions around them. The experts lay out a very logical case that money invested now in programs to eliminate the cycle of chronic poverty and disconnect will have a significant return on investment down the road. And it’s based in data and study, not rhetoric or promises made at a campaign rally.

While the issues can be complicated, and in some cases, seemingly designed to be divisive, I think the first steps toward solving them can be simple: show more gratitude for what is working while working hard to improve educational opportunities for our children. That is how we preserve the American Dream.

Learn more here at 60x30Works.org