One of the contributing factors that led to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Mulvaney: Let states figure out 'essential health benefits' How President Trump can restore sanity to America's labor laws MORE’s election as president was his success at speaking to the indignity that many working-class Americans felt – Americans who witnessed their factories closing, who are cut off from employment opportunities, who feel threatened by immigrants, who are fearful of their jobs being outsourced or automated, and who are further removed from achieving the American Dream.
President Trump, of course, is not the first public official to employ populist rhetoric. Nor is he the first president to call attention to the struggles of working-class Americans. Last January, President Obama used his farewell address to remind Americans that the defining challenge of our time is stark inequality.
Perhaps “unleashing economic growth” or “creating 25 million new jobs” may eventually cohere into a policy that provides jobs to Americans. But the policy needed in today’s economy is one that prepares Americans for the jobs of tomorrow.
Consider Year Up, a national organization that has spent the past 16 years connecting low-income young adults with skilled jobs in high-growth industries and helping them catapult themselves from poverty to the middle class in a single year. Its mission is to close the mismatches in the youth labor market, also known as the Opportunity Divide, and to date, it has served more than 16,000 low-income young adults and helped develop custom training solutions to meet specific needs of over 250 corporate partners.
Given that the federal government spends $2.4 billion dollars annually for training Opportunity Youth – young adults neither in school nor in work – with limited labor market outcomes, Year Up’s success should not be overlooked. Students intern at top companies across the country, such as JP Morgan Chase, Google, and American Express, and 85 percent of graduates find gainful employment or attend college full time. Within four months of completing the yearlong program, graduates earn starting salaries averaging $36,000 a year.
Year Up’s success provides two important lessons to policymakers interested in decreasing inequality and increasing opportunity for Americans across the country and across demographic groups. First, a demand-driven approach is critical for expanding access to opportunity. This means correcting education and workforce systems that have failed to provide young adults the skills they need for success in life by making them more responsive to jobs employers are actually creating.
Second, what many working-class Americans want is not a hand out but a hand up. Put another way, lawmakers should make it easier for Americans to succeed by investing in results-based initiatives that help Americans acquire the skills they need to earn sustainable living wages.
To be sure, there is no shortage of bipartisan ideas that would help working-class Americans. Last summer, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute released a report on reducing poverty and restoring the American Dream that prescribed reforms to family, community, and work structures. The report made recommendations such as investing in skill building so that people can get well-paying jobs; making work pay more for the less educated; ensuring that jobs are available; increasing public funding in postsecondary schools; and helping young less-educated men and women prosper in work and family. And Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTim ScottA better economic policy Republicans rebuke King for racial remarks Conway on criticism: 'I'm not there to read about myself' MORE (R-S.C.) introduced the LEAP Act earlier this year, legislation that would increase apprenticeships through a new federal tax credit for employers.
Taken together these proposals, alongside other bipartisan agreements such as the desire to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, could make up a 2017 Dignity of Work Act and prove to be a political winner for President Trump, Republicans and Democrats. While such legislation appears unlikely, the overwhelming support working-class Americans gave Trump only affirms the need for new economic messages that can resonate with all Americans – rural and urban, college educated and non-educated, young and old.
Preparing Americans for the jobs of tomorrow may not be a slogan that can fit neatly on a red baseball cap. But if Democrats or Republicans want to be considered champions of the working-class, they should start introducing policies rooted in economic reality – policies that are aligned to employer demand and which provide all Americans a hand up.
Jonathan Hasak is a Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Year Up.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.