Chance for a good life through risky hard work in America

The truth is that the opportunity to earn a good living through hard work is getting out of reach for too many Americans. As someone who has benefited greatly from our free enterprise system as an entrepreneur, I recognize that modern American capitalism just isn’t working for enough people in this country.

Over the past 50 years, globalization, automation and disruptive technologies have both destroyed and created millions of jobs. But the benefits have not been evenly distributed. The result is inequality of opportunity, with new, well-paying jobs increasingly concentrated in a handful of urban centers, available to a small, skilled workforce that does not represent the racial, geographic and socio-economic diversity of our country.

Workers now face not only historic income inequality, but also great income insecurity due to the growing threat that their jobs will be automated, outsourced or eliminated in the next round of corporate mergers. These problems are only compounded by companies that prioritize short-term profits over long-term growth, favoring mergers and acquisitions over investments in their physical and human capital.

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Unfortunately, the temptation for policymakers is to treat the symptoms of inequality when we really need a new economic model to prepare Americans for work in the 21st century.

Let’s address the issue of income insecurity and recognize that many people do not hold a job for their entire career or even one job at a time. We need federal and local government to experiment with industry to develop a system of portable benefits to track workers from job to job and gig to gig.

A recent study found that by 2030, up to one-third of American workers will need to retrain or change jobs to cope with disruption from automation and the changing economy. We need to radically change our approach to vocational training in this country.

We also need to think big. We need real bipartisan tax reform that rewards hard work and investments in American workers. Now, if a company buys a new robot to replace its employees, that’s an asset. If the company invests in the training of its workers, it is an expense. Let’s fix this. While we’re at it, let’s replicate the success of the R&D tax credit and incentivize companies to train low- and middle-income workers to help them move up the economic ladder.

We need to do this if we are serious about closing a skills gap that will only get worse with automation. A recent study found that by 2030, up to one-third of American workers will need to retrain or change jobs to cope with disruption from automation and the changing economy. We need to radically change our approach to job training in this country, from investments in community and technical colleges, to apprenticeship programs, to savings accounts that help with lifelong learning.

The American dream might seem to be fading. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Done right, we can rebalance the economic scales a little more in favor of American workers while nurturing the competitive spirit that has made the American economy the dominant global force it is today.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in tassels.

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