Economic Climate Change-- A Guest Post By Bob Poe
By now, everyone knows we need to focus on climate change. The threat is real, the science is clear, and the effects are happening now. Combating climate change will take action from Congress, and from people willing to hold them accountable.
But there’s another threat facing our nation that’s just as serious. One that could swallow a generation of American workers, like climate change threatens to swallow our coasts. And one that comes with a great opportunity for the future.
I call it “economic climate change.”
With a median wage of $29,781, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says my hometown of Orlando, Florida has the lowest wages in the top 50 metro areas. Sadly, it turns out, that might be the good news.
The bad news is that advances in technology-- automation, robotics, 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence-- that are specifically designed to eliminate whole categories of jobs may mean there won’t be enough of those already low-paying jobs to go around.
This isn’t theoretical. It’s already begun. Just as rising sea levels from global climate change will be disruptive to our safety and security, rising unemployment levels from economic climate change have the potential to be equally disruptive to every aspect of life as we know it.
Want proof? Visit your local home improvement or neighborhood grocery store--chances are, you’ll find fewer live cashiers, and more self-service checkout lanes. Head to the airport, and you’re directed to the self-service check-in kiosk. At the bank, ATMs began replacing tellers years ago.
Need more? Just this month, Wendy’s announced the introduction of automated, self-service ordering kiosks across 6,000 restaurants. Some distribution warehouses already have driverless forklifts. And Uber and Lyft are testing driverless cars that will soon send your friendly taxi driver the way of the blacksmith and his horseshoes.
The stakes are high. As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan put it recently:
Let’s further assume that automation begins eliminating large numbers of jobs not just in the restaurant industry, but in all sorts of service industries. Millions of lost jobs. Millions of workers that no longer fit into our modern economy. Millions of families without a way to pay the bills. Automation may be an opportunity for corporations and shareholders, but it is a threat to the American middle and lower classes.But, just as the horse and buggy made way for the automobile, new technologies that eliminate some jobs will also create a whole host of new jobs. Jobs that require an entirely new set of skills. Skills that many in today's workforce don’t currently have.
As we moved from an agrarian society to the Industrial Revolution, people could take their skills from the farm to the factory. Moving from the plow to the lever wasn’t a career-ending leap. But those same skills aren't as easily transferred from the factory to the Digital Age.
This is where the opportunity to write America’s next great chapter begins. But it won’t happen without political and policy leadership to get it done. So how do we do it?
As our economic climate changes, we need an all-of-the-above strategy to make sure everyone has a chance of getting in the economic lifeboat. Here are a few ideas:
Increase the minimum wage to $15
I’m a businessman. I’m fortunate to have built some wonderful businesses over the years. And I get what higher wages mean for a business. But I also get what those wages mean for working people. A decent living wage means more money in a family’s pockets-- and that means more buying power for businesses and their products. It’s also the right thing to do.
Reinvest in infrastructure
It’s not hard to see-- America’s infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads, bridges and other infrastructure is falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our nation’s current infrastructure a D+ grade, citing a “significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding.”
Quoting Gawker’s Nolan again:
This is an unusually good time for the government to spend a great deal of money rebuilding our national infrastructure. This could create millions of jobs for people automated out of work, at least for a while. And the money would be well spent. We should do this no matter what.Provide tuition-free career training
Guaranteed public education ending at the 12th grade isn’t enough anymore, if we want to stay globally competitive and stave off economic climate change. The effort is already underway to provide tuition-free community college through state and federal partnerships. We should make sure that includes tuition-free training for the careers of the future.
Expand Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
What’s one of the best ways to ensure a basic standard of living, as we cope with the coming upheaval from economic climate change? Expand three of the most successful American ideas ever-- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs have kept millions of Americans from suffering the indignity of crushing poverty and lack of access to healthcare. They need investment and expansion to keep working for the most vulnerable of our society-- seniors on fixed incomes, and low-income individuals and families.
Of course, conservatives will howl and say we can’t afford it. I don’t believe that.
The greatness of America is that we've always been able to do what we put our minds to. And the truth of the matter is, as we face the specter of economic climate change, we simply can’t afford not to.
Bob Poe is a progressive Democrat, businessman, husband and proud father running for Congress in Florida’s 10th Congressional district. Join his fight for fair wages, equality and economic opportunity for all at BobPoeForCongress.com. You can contribute to his campaign by tapping on the thermometer below: