Campaign Season Is a Time for Bold Ideas on Education and Employment

Now that the first Democratic debates are behind us, JFF looks forward to hearing all presidential candidates propose solid solutions about how to fix the nation’s education and workforce development systems.

Published jul. 08, 2019

In the first debates of the 2020 presidential primary season, 20 Democratic candidates spent four hours over two nights discussing several critical issues. But we at JFF were disappointed that the sometimes heated conversations largely lacked bold solutions and new ideas for fixing the country’s public education and workforce development systems.

To be fair, the format—in which 10 candidates competed for less than two hours of airtime each night—didn’t allow for in-depth discussion of any issue, and the topics that did dominate the conversation—including health care, immigration, climate change, and foreign relations—are of vital national importance.

But now that the first debates are out of the way and the candidates have given us some idea of where they stand, JFF looks forward to a more substantive discussion of the education and workforce challenges facing the country. We need a bold vision and forward-looking solutions that help everyone access and become better prepared for the jobs of the future.

We need a bold vision and forward-looking solutions that help everyone access and become better prepared for the jobs of the future.

Looking Beyond College Affordability

The fraction of time that the candidates spent discussing higher education focused on college affordability and student debt. Those are big problems that limit the ability of millions of Americans to get the educations they need to succeed, but they represent just two pieces of a complex puzzle of challenges facing our public education and skills development systems. 

We need to go beyond efforts to make college more affordable and ease the burden of student debt. There are other challenges to address if we want to embark on a desperately needed effort to modernize our overall approach to skills development and education to meet the needs of today’s students, workers, and employers in our 21st-century economy.

Awaiting a Solution for Wage Stagnation

For example, between now and November 2020, we’d like to see presidential candidates from all parties put forth some ideas about ways to combat the seemingly intractable problem of wage stagnation, which is evident in the fact that real wages have not budged for more than 40 years for the average U.S. worker. 

Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey acknowledged the problem during the first night of Democratic debates when he stated that, because of corporate consolidation, “dignity is being stripped from labor, and we have people that work full-time jobs and still can’t make a living wage.”

A handful of other candidates also mentioned wage disparities as an important issue, but no one provided a detailed plan for disrupting the trend.

Reaping the Benefits of Growth

As the campaign season shifts into a higher gear, JFF would also like to hear candidates discuss bold solutions that transform systems to better prepare students for the future workforce.

We’d like to learn more about candidates’ ideas on making our nation’s workforce and skills development systems more agile and responsive to the changing economy and the future of work. While most observers predict that the economy will continue to grow and the number of net new jobs will rise, only economic systems and workers that are prepared for the ongoing rise of automation and other technological disruptions will reap the benefits of growth.

As a response to this shift, we need bold solutions for updating our public education system so it’s more relevant, more student-centered, and better aligned with the knowledge and skills required to succeed in postsecondary education and in good-paying, high-skill jobs.

The country can no longer rely on the traditional ways of thinking that assumed that education and training follow a linear progression from school or college to a lifelong job or career path. Toward that end, we believe candidates should have solutions for breaking down unnecessary boundaries between secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and work. JFF does.


Helping Everyone Compete

Former Vice President Joe Biden indicated that he understands that when, during the second debate, he said, “There’s a lot we can do, but we have to make continuing education available for everyone so that everyone can complete in the 21st century. We’re not doing that now.”

We look forward to hearing more ideas about bold and transformative solutions for improving the country’s education and workforce development systems in ways that can help individuals move up the socioeconomic ladder. JFF is a resource that all presidential candidates and policymakers can turn to for ideas and solutions to better prepare our nation’s workforce for the jobs of the future.