By Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
It’s Labor Day in the year 2020. The United States faces a massive worker shortage that has driven wages, inflation, and interest rates to record highs. America is losing the global race for technology and talent after failing to fundamentally improve its schools. Fewer workers are available to support entitlement benefits for a rapidly aging population, forcing massive tax increases and painful benefit cuts. We’ve sealed our borders to young, hardworking immigrants.
Is this what the future has in store for us? Or can we take steps now to ensure that Labor Day 2020 is as prosperous as Labor Day 2006?
The above scenario is not farfetched. Our nation’s population is aging. By 2010, nearly one in three U.S. workers will be over the age of 50. The gap between available jobs and available workers with the skills needed in those jobs could grow to 35 million or more by 2012. The Bureau of Labor predicts the need for science and engineering graduates will grow 26% to 1.25 million by 2012, but the number of U.S. graduates in these fields has remained the same for the last 20 years. Meanwhile, 30% of high school students won’t graduate in four years. That number jumps to 50% for minority students.
What must we do? First, improve America’s class rooms. The Chamber, working with its state and local counterparts, is implementing an aggressive education agenda designed to double the number of math, science, and engineering graduates by 2015. Legislatively, we’re working to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, an initiative requiring states to report their students’ test scores. Additionally, the Chamber has launched a new program to assess how each state’s K-12 education system is preparing its students to compete in the 21st century and will recommend specific educational reforms where needed.
Second, enact a sensible immigration policy that would improve security and border enforcement, allow employers to fill jobs when American workers are unavailable, create a new temporary worker program, and develop a process for undocumented workers to qualify for legal work status following security and background checks, paying a fine and meeting other criteria.
Third, remain the world’s most open and engaged economy. We must resist protectionist impulses that would wall us off from the rest of the world. If given an open and level playing field, Americans can compete and win against anybody.
American businesses and workers have every reason to celebrate this Labor Day. Their hard work has created one of the most prosperous economies in the world. But it will take a lot more hard work to ensure that it stays that way for years to come.