It used to be relatively easy in the United States to find a good-paying job in manufacturing, construction, transportation, or the like, and be assured of a high-paying job that allowed retirement on a pension. But the world is changing, and many manufacturing sectors have reduced overall employment while greatly increasing the skill and training levels required. Other sectors like transportation are on the cusp of major change as automation in harbors and on the highway threatens to eliminate much of the workforce. We know, in fact, that tens of millions of jobs are set to disappear in America over the next fifty years, yet we have been doing nothing to prepare for it. In fact, we have been heading in the opposite direction.

America used to lead the world in the number of people graduating from college or university. We now rank fifteenth and falling steadily. Yet a college education is more important now than ever, given the unfolding transformation from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based services economy. We need to prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow, not leave them to struggle and compete for shrinking opportunities in fields with little opportunity for growth. A college education is one of the historic paths to social mobility, and the rising cost of higher education and decline in graduation rates is a contributing factor in the declining living standards and lower social mobility in the US compared to the 1960s and ‘70s. And the ever-rising debts accumulated for college now hold back an increasing number of Americans from reaching their potential, putting home ownership, for example, well out of reach. We need to reverse these trends in order to realize the promise of a greater America for all.

I support making public colleges and universities tuition free for families making less that $125,000 a year, and assistance in refinancing the crushing debt burden that the last two generations have taken on in order to attend. This will allow people to make the best of educational opportunities and spur their creativity and entrepreneurial ambitions. But not everyone wants to, or needs to, attend college, and we must support trade and vocational schools as well as colleges. Providing workers with the technical skills needed to serve the needs of a changing economy, whether on the plant floor or the accounting office, will increase overall growth to the benefit of everyone. And such a plan is easily paid for using a speculation tax of 0.5% on stock trades, a 0.1% tax on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives. The American taxpayer has repeatedly bailed Wall Street out on its bad investments – it is time for Wall Street to make an investment in the American people.

Photo by Nick Youngson – Courtesy Alpha Stock Images, CC BY-SA 3.0