So the question is, how do we restore the basic bargain?
To put workers first, we have three promises to keep. First, we need to make sure hard-working Americans have the skills and opportunities to succeed in the jobs of the future. Second, we need to make sure people are paid fairly for their work. Those who work hard and do their part should share in the benefits, allowing them to earn a good living and get ahead. And third, we need policies that allow the middle class to maintain or improve their standard of living. A small pay raise doesn't help much if the costs of housing, health care, and education are rising significantly more.
Today, I put forward some ideas for how all of us – Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, employers and workers – can begin to restore the basic bargain by making good on the first promise of ensuring that hard-working Americans have the skills and opportunities to get a good job.
To start, we need to make sure our students get the education they need to succeed. Everyone knows that in the 21st century, 12 years of education is not enough. In 2014, when President Obama asked me to lead a year-long process on the workforce, we found that by the end of this decade more than six in 10 jobs would require some education beyond high school. Community colleges are a perfect vehicle for that – offering everything from short eight-week certificate programs to apprenticeships to associate's degrees. The wage boost for getting an associate's degree is $9,000, every single year. A lot of families need this raise.
Every American should have access to at least 14 years of public education. There are great state models to build on, like the one being set up by Republican Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam making two years of community college tuition-free, whether individuals are right out of high school or have already been in the workforce. We should also allow students to keep existing financial aid like Pell Grants to help them pay for other expenses that too often make it impossible for them to stay in school.
In addition, in the new economy people need to build their skills so
they can keep pace with the technological changes in their industries, whether
they are a home health care worker wanting to use the latest tools to keep a
patient healthy or an autoworker needing to understand the new technologies
that will be building driverless cars. We need more community colleges working
with businesses to develop certificate and credential programs that will
retrain people so they can adapt as quickly as technology is changing their job
requirements. And finally, we need to shut down training programs that don’t
offer results for American workers and instead redirect that funding to
community colleges with proven track records of success. A program that doesn’t
work isn’t just a waste taxpayer dollars, it also undermines the confidence
that all taxpayers have in these important efforts and is a waste of the time
and energy of those trying to get new skills.