PJ Media

Poverty, Shrinking Workforce, and Low-Skill Workers: A National Crisis

In 2011, the political, social, and economic fabric of our nation stretched a little too far. Will 2012 be the year the seams burst?

For starters, we have a broke, broken, polarized, and dysfunctional government, and that saga will play out on center stage in election year 2012. The people are polarized as well. However, one issue has upwards of 70% of Americans in total agreement — our nation is headed on the wrong track. Hard to argue: no nation or empire in the history of the world has ever been burdened with $15 trillion in debt. I am known to be an optimist, but reviewing the statistics that reveal the sorry state of our nation, I find myself joining the chorus of voters who believe national decline can only be managed but not avoided.

Many Americans, especially Republicans, think the 2012 election is our last chance to turn our ship of state around, but it may already be too late. For exactly how to turn the ship around and who will be captain will cause more polarization, more dysfunction, and potential for upheaval. Per Bob Dylan: “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.” Some facts supporting that statement:

Half of All Americans Are Poor or Low-Income

According to the latest census data, 146.4 million Americans, or 48% of the population, either fall below the poverty line or are in the low-income category.

Of that number, 97.3 million are considered low-income, while 49.1 million are poor. But the fact that should be of greatest concern to all Americans in regards to our future economic well being: 57% of all children are either poor or low-income.

Unless there is some radical change, the national trend towards a have vs. have-not society is already set in stone. Expect class warfare to grow and government entitlement battles to become even more vicious. There is no escaping that income inequality, on a scale that we have never seen before, will have a profoundly negative effect on our traditional American way of life. A child born into poverty has fewer chances to move into the middle class given all the disadvantages poverty heaps on a young life, both mentally and physically.

Census data from 2010 reveals that Hispanics account for 73% of our nation’s poor, and they are the largest and fastest growing minority demographic, comprising 16.3% of the population. Hispanic growth increased 43% from 2000 to 2010.

Therefore, a massive public/private initiative must be developed to help lift Hispanics into the middle class or the U.S. will eventually cease to be a top tier nation. Our standing in the world economy is directly tied to Hispanic upward mobility.

The American Workforce Is Shrinking

According to USA Today, in 2010 the share of the population that had a job fell to 45.4%, down from a peak of 49.3% in 2000 — the lowest percentage of workers since 1983. This downward percentage translates into 27 million more non-working adults. Looking at male workers only, 66.8% had jobs, the lowest on record. Obviously this downward trend must be reversed, or national decline is inevitable.

High-Skilled Jobs and Low-Skilled Workers

This is a problem — closer to a crisis — that few of our national leaders bother to discuss. Too many high-skilled high-paying jobs are going unfilled. Met any unemployed computer engineers lately? Not likely you will.

Jobs, jobs, jobs may be the battle cry of the 2012 election but it is skills, skills, skills that are the real problem. Moreover, the lack of high-tech skills in our working population is impeding our future economic growth.

When I graduated from high school in the early ’70s, men who did not go to college often became auto mechanics. That path is not as easy anymore. Today, mechanics are highly paid and sought after because they require extensive computer training and certification to work on cars that have become computers on wheels.

How does our economy create low-skilled but adequate wage jobs for the growing number of low-skilled or no-skilled American workers? Solving that dilemma is the key to lifting half of our population out of poverty.

Innovative programs must be developed to help create a new middle class to supplement the current one that is shrinking fast. If we are unable to do that, then continued decline is the economic forecast for 2012 and beyond.