During the last eight years, the U.S. economy has limped along at an average growth rate around 2 percent, the weakest recovery since World War II. Workforce participation is under 38 percent, a depth not seen since the economic malaise of the Carter administration. As a result, middle-class wages have been flat and families are feeling squeezed. These dynamics in the labor force help explain why nearly two-thirds of voters believed the country was headed in the wrong direction on Election Day.
Donald Trump was elected on a promise to Make America Great Again by bringing seismic changes to the political culture in Washington. To succeed, he will have to create stronger growth and rising wages. In picking Betsy DeVos to head up the Department of Education and Andy Puzder to lead the Labor Department, President-elect Trump has sent an early signal about his determination to make American workers and the next generation more competitive.
DeVos and Puzder will challenge the antiquated policies favored by labor union leaders that are inflicting damage on the American economy. While much of the focus on the Trump economic agenda has been on his commitment to end Obama-era regulations and reform the tax code, more attention should be given to the long-term benefits that can result from a better educated and trained workforce.
According to Manpower’s annual Talent Shortage Survey, more than 40 percent of American employers reported having difficulty finding talented workers to fill job openings. This eye-opening finding tracks with the fact that only 40 percent of high school graduates are college or workforce ready, according to the Nation’s Report Card.
DeVos is an ideal candidate to drive a national debate on how to improve the performance of our K-12 schools. For the last 28 years, she has fought in the trenches against the leadership within the teachers unions to break their monopoly on education and give parents a larger voice in where and how their children are educated.
Trump and DeVos are promising to free up $20 billion of federal funding to empower governors to expand school choice. This reform has the potential to revolutionize education at the state and local level. By shifting power from a top-down bureaucracy in Washington that ignores failure and rewards labor unions, the Trump administration will be clearing the way for reforms that will increase accountability within a system that in many cases has protected bad teachers and failing schools.
In the private sector, competition is a force for good that requires company executives to innovate and to hold their share of the market. The same dynamic can be at play in the classroom as traditional public schools, charter schools, private and virtual schools all compete for students.
The demand for school choice in America is high and growing. Today, nearly 3 million students attend charter schools and 1 million are on waiting lists. In Indiana, nearly 35,000 students are participating in the state’s voucher program, a tenfold increase since it was adopted in 2011.
DeVos believes that education dollars should follow the student to the best schools available to them. This is a concept that frightens the unions because it puts trust in parents instead of writing blank checks to an education establishment that is failing to prepare our children for the jobs of the future.
By raising the bar on education and ensuring American businesses have a deep pool of skilled workers to hire, DeVos will help build the foundation for long-term economic growth needed to boost the quality of life of middle-class families.
Similar to DeVos’ commitment to challenge the teachers unions, Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, has the courage and fortitude to take on the those arguing in favor of an antiquated mindset that threatens to undercut workers with the lowest skill levels that are barely hanging onto the economic ladder. It is sad that the biggest idea the union leaders and Democrat Party have on the economy is to drive up the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ensuring the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and accelerating the forces of automation throughout the workforce.
Republicans under the leadership of the Trump administration and inspired leaders like Betsy DeVos and Andy Puzder have the potential to become the voice for workers in America for a simple reason: organized labor and the big-government policies it champions have left behind too many working Americans and created substandard schools that aren’t keeping pace with our economic competitors.
Big change is indeed on the way to Washington, and working families stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.