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Ideas for expanding economic opportunity focus of Aspen report

February 14, 2019

Shifts in the American economy have resulted in a myriad of challenges including workers without the necessary skills for today’s jobs, lack of wage increases for low- and middle-income worker and a shrinking labor force participation rate. With an aim of identifying bipartisan policy solutions to such challenges, the Aspen Economic Strategy Group (AESG) spent a year collecting ideas to address these challenges and have released their findings in a new report. While the authors of the report caution that there is no silver bullet solution to the challenges outlined in the report, they go on to say, “Evidence-based, bipartisan solutions rarely capture headlines, but they do exist, and should be embraced by those who are serious about solving our long-term economic challenges.” The report outlines several proposed solutions.

The report, Expanding Economic Opportunity for More Americans, notes that a cornerstone of the AESG is promoting bipartisanship in economic policymaking, and to that end they gathered senior counselors to Democratic and Republican presidential administrations to author the three discussion papers contained within the report. The result is a collection of recommendations that should have appeal to a diverse audience.

In looking at developing a policy agenda to build human capital for the modern, global economy, the report focused on post-secondary skill development. The authors call for new investments in America’s system of community colleges that would be contingent upon institutional outcomes and at a similar scale to the Morrill Land Grant Acts of the 19th century. Other ideas in the report revolve around expanding apprenticeship programs, what works in career and technical education, and it includes some cautionary advice for those wanting to leverage online educational programming for academically at-risk students.

In trying to address the rural/urban divide in employment rates and economic prosperity, author James Ziliak argues for both people-based and place-based policy approaches, including relocation assistance and investments in rural broadband. Another option to increase the labor force participation rate addresses the role of incarceration in limiting employment options, and calls for prison reform and education, and post-release strategies to help support reentry into society.

Tackling the issues surrounding private sector wages and jobs is the third of the policy goals outlined in the report. Calling on decades of combined experience in economic policy, AESG members Jason Furman and Phillip Swagel acknowledged the political difficulties inherent in creating the conditions necessary for long-term job and wage growth. They focus more on options that would affect take-home pay for low-income workers in the short run and advocate for the expanding the existing Earned Income Tax Credit and setting up a new structure for wage subsidies for these workers.

The strategy group’s co-chairs, Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Erskine Bowles, detailed the approach they used in formulating the policy suggestions contained in the report in a piece that ran in the Washington Post.


economic development, policy recommendations