Special to USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston
The U.S federal government recently announced that the nation’s unemployment rate is still hovering around 10 percent. Voters have seized on this news by demanding that their leaders find a way to drive that number down.
Indeed, a recent Gallup poll found that 31 percent of Americans view the economy as the most important problem facing the country today; 22 percent saw jobs as the nation’s main concern. A recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll revealed that one in three registered voters viewed jobs and the economy as the top priority for the federal government.
As President Obama has pointed out, the economy has actually started creating jobs — 83,000 in June alone. But signs of life in the economy have also caused more people to re-enter the workforce and actively search for work. That’s why the unemployment rate has edged higher.
Lawmakers can do more to create employment opportunities, enable entrepreneurship, and aid business creation. Stimulus funds and emergency federal aid certainly helped stop the bleeding during the height of the economic downturn. But to foster job creation over the long haul, our leaders must encourage private-sector growth and investment — particularly in the next generation of innovative industries.
The American economy has fundamentally changed over the last few decades. Regrettably, many manufacturing jobs that have disappeared in recent years aren’t coming back. But jobs in emerging industries can take their place — if we support them.
Take green jobs. In the near future, alternative energy technologies — like wind turbines and nuclear power — could emerge as viable competitors to coal, oil, and natural gas. These industries will need plenty of workers.
Another sector that’s poised to take off is biotechnology. Between 2008 and 2009, the industry’s income jumped ninefold — from $400 million to $3.7 billion. The venture capital raised by American biotech companies hit $4.6 billion last year. And biotech firms themselves invested nearly $45 billion in U.S.-based research projects last year.
Nationally, biotech companies are directly responsible for 686,000 jobs — and that number is growing. What’s more, the products of biotech research — cutting-edge medicines — often save taxpayers money by reducing overall healthcare expenses.
Green jobs and biotech jobs aren’t just for people with PhDs. In both industries, construction workers, food-service providers, accountants, facilities managers, lab assistants, and countless others are needed.
Thus, investments in these industries have a multiplier effect on employment — dollars spent on hiring new research scientists lead to the creation of jobs in other industries.
The government can take some simple steps to cultivate innovative sectors like biotech and alternative energy and set this country up for sustainable job growth.
In the short term, policymakers should encourage private-sector employers to make new hires — and retain current employees — by enacting a payroll tax holiday. Such a holiday would especially benefit entrepreneurs and small businesses owners. Many biotech firms are themselves small businesses, so payroll tax relief would accomplish two goals: bolstering America’s commitment to a strong biotech sector and creating new jobs.
Leaders of both parties have already spoken in general terms in approvingly of this initiative. A bipartisan move like this is essential given the fact that unemployment remains incredibly high.
The federal government should also provide provide taxes incentives for “angel” investment funds, which supply much of the start-up capital for entrepreneurs.
Longer term, our leaders must improve science and math education in our public schools. Too many students with interest or aptitude in these subjects don’t receive the support and instruction they need. Today’s children will comprise the next generation of energy scientists and medical researchers. Our schools must produce top-flight students — or innovative companies will be forced to set up shop elsewhere.
If our leaders fail to position America to take advantage of the growth opportunities portended by emerging industries, our economy will be no better off 30 years from now than it is today. By supporting biotech, alternative energy, and other innovative sectors, lawmakers can expedite the creation of new jobs and set the national economy back on its feet.
•Schoen, a public policy analyst, campaign consultant for more than 30 years and author of “Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System”, is making this his first commentary on USAfricaonline.com