The 2009 economic stimulus package has come and gone. So, too, have the temporary payroll tax cuts of 2011-12. Most of the Bush-era tax cuts, in addition, have been made permanent. Yet the lasting effects of these policies have been meager.
The economy is still sluggish. Unemployment remains high, especially for lower-skilled workers. Inequality of incomes is higher still. What’s more, the fundamental structural challenges to our economy remain. Deeply disruptive forces — rapidly evolving information technology, globalization and environmental stresses — are radically reshaping the jobs market. Decent jobs for low-skilled workers have virtually disappeared. Some have been relegated to China and emerging economies, while others have been lost to robotics and computerization.
The results of these changes can be seen in two starkly different employment figures: since 2008, 3.1 million new jobs have been created for college graduates as 4.3 million jobs have disappeared for high-school graduates and those without a high school diploma.
These trends will only continue, and even become more sharply defined. But in the face of such immense challenges, Republicans continue to hawk their age-old remedy, demanding cuts in government spending, tax rates and regulation so that market forces can respond in due course. Democrats, meanwhile, push just as stridently for their familiar fixes — short-term spending programs like the 2009 stimulus package enacted during President Obama’s first term.
It’s time to move beyond such transitory and piecemeal policies. Our underlying economic problems are chronic, not temporary; structural, not cyclical. To solve them, we need a systematic long-term approach.
Consider three priorities for this new, long-range perspective: infrastructure, energy and job skills. With a smart, ambitious strategy in these sectors we can encourage the creation of good jobs and begin to resolve huge problems of competitiveness and the environment.
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