By Patricia H. Kushlis
In his column on Sunday September 9, Tom Friedman points out
the chicken and egg relationship between education and employment. The more education an American has, the more
likely he – or she – will have a job. Case
in point: Only 4.4 percent of American
college graduates are currently unemployed. Conversely, 12 percent of high
school dropouts are out of work. Yet
fewer Americans – especially young men – are graduating from college than
before likely because of escalating costs of higher education.
The employment-education ratio is straightforward and linear:
the higher one’s education, the better one’s potential for finding and holding
While one can quibble that money does not buy happiness,
most societies including America’s,
Put it down to the Protestant work ethic – or whatever – but
lazing around on the family couch or playing Angry Birds ad infinitum on a
laptop or i-phone is not a socially valued attribute. Not for long anyway.
This is why Friedman – as did Bill Clinton in his brilliant
Democratic National Convention speech – argues that if the US ever sets aside
more economic stimulus money it needs to be invested in community colleges,
Pell grants and vocational training classes.
Furthermore, Friedman argues, education in the Internet Age
– or the age of Globalization and Technological Innovation – is about the continual
reinvention of the self which means a never-ending race to update one’s knowledge
and skills. Resting on one’s laurels after completing college or less is a
recipe for failure in this knowledge-based hyper-competitive world.
It’s the ability and willingness to learn complex tasks and the
latest computer programs over and over and over again. So far so good: keeping the brain active also
helps keep it healthy. And, Friedman also points out that in this globalized age,
low skilled jobs are melting away like Arctic icebergs in the Global Warming
sun. My analogy, not his, but I think
you understand the meaning.
So where does the immigration impediment come in? What’s the
Here’s the issue: the
more highly skilled jobs that are made available to foreigners determined by visa
quotas set by the federal government, the less investment an American company
needs to put into training America’s
own. Let’s face it: importing skilled
foreign workers in large quantities is a cheap yet, in my view, socially counterproductive
way to conduct business in these United States.
Nevertheless, hence the continual pressure from the private
sector on the US
government to increase the quota of visas for skilled workers from abroad. Companies
claim they can’t find them in the US. They may well be right. But why? What about investing more in the people who
are already here rather than contributing to an ever high unemployment rate
that contributes to an ever larger permanent under-class? Better education for Americans is not necessarily
a “quick fix” to the problem – but it would benefit the country and the
community in the long run.
Why should the taxpayers have to foot the bill for the perennially
unskilled unemployed when this country – as Clinton said – needs to pull together and get
its act together. And it can. Seems to me that doing what needs to be done
to refit and retrain its own for skilled positions now and in the future is a
large part of it.
This reminds me of what the State Department did with too
many of its employees in its Bureau of International Information Programs from
1999 on. Instead of maintaining and
enhancing skills and equipment (both were largely at the cutting edge in 1998
when I left) through investment in the bureau’s own human capital and technology,
they were allowed to deteriorate to the point that the bureau’s heart and soul –
its information technology operation aimed abroad – is now run by outside
contractors whose skills are far more (although I would argue not entirely) up-to-date
but whose knowledge of US foreign policy objectives is questionable.
function well, the bureau needs both.
The irony is that this needn’t and shouldn’t have happened – except that
State has always been a Neanderthal compared, say, to the Pentagon, in the information
Seems to me then that US-based companies should first look
to invest in the education of their own communities and workers instead of extracting
ever more privileges and tax breaks from cities and towns in which they have
located or plan to locate. It might help
if the federal and state governments would re-jigger the tax code to reward
those companies that do perform “community service.” This
means – by the way – far more sustained investment in pre-school through
college education – and yes, beyond. And
it means raising standards and – the hardest of all – shifting a community’s educational
Immigration to the US is at an all-time high. The polyglot of languages spoken in American
schools is so vast that it is hard for even well trained teachers to cope. And
the worsening budget crunch at the state and local levels negatively impacts American
schools and education in particular:
teachers are being fired for budgetary, not competency reasons. This
means classes overflow; days and terms are likely shorter. In the end, students – and hence society as a
whole – are short changed.
Maybe, just maybe wealthy companies should stop hoarding large
stashes of cash in tax-havens off-shore or wherever and invest in their own
communities in partnership with the local public schools. Might just pay-off business – as well as
society – in the long run.