Thursday, April 08, 2010

Where the Jobs Are

Critics have--rightfully--accused President Obama of re-making the U.S. in the image of France. From steps towards nationalized health care and feuds with our allies, to an over-reliance on diplomacy and perpetual patience with our foes, Mr. Obama clearly seeks inspiration from the governing models in Paris and other European capitals.

And, as Daniel Henninger notes in today's Wall Street Journal, the president's EU-style policies are having a devastating impact on one of his core constituencies. Young Americans, the under-25 demographic that helped catapult Mr. Obama into the Oval Office, are experiencing unemployment levels more than twice the national average. At least 20% of Americans in that age group are currently out of work, and their near-term employment prospects are grim.

To be fair, that statistic is (in part) a reflection of the current economy. During a recession, many employers are reluctant to bring on new workers who must be trained and won't be as productive as older, more experienced employees. Firms are also worried about the impact of Obama's health care plan, new taxes and his "cap-and-tax" scheme, giving them even more reasons to avoid hiring new workers. That raises the specter of "youth unemployment" becoming a permanent feature of our economic landscape.

That is already the case in Europe. As Mr. Henninger writes:

In the final month of 2009, these were European unemployment rates for people under 25: Belgium, 22.6; Spain, 44.5; France, 25.2; Italy, 26.2; the U.K., 19; Sweden, 26.9; Finland, 23.5. Germany, at 10% uses an "apprentice" system to bring young people into the work force, though that system has come under stress for a most relevant reason: a shortage in Germany of private-sector jobs.


In the U.S., we've thought of youth unemployment as mainly about minority status linked to poor education. Not in Europe. German TV recently broadcast a sad piece on Finland, which has the continent's most admired school system. It showed an alert, vivacious young woman—she looked like someone out of an upper-middle-class U.S. high school—roaming Helsinki's streets begging waitress jobs, without success.

On our present course, the same scenario may be repeated here. With its huge workforce, the U.S. needs economic and fiscal policies that spur job creation on a massive scale. Entrepreneurs will find it difficult, if not impossible, to build the next Google, Microsoft or L-3 Communications in an era of much higher taxes and increased government regulation of the private sector.

Still, jobs are out there for young workers with the right skill sets. Testifying before Congress last week, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) bemoaned the nation's shortage of "technogeeks," the elite scientists, engineers and computer specialists needed to develop cutting-edge defense technology.

"...according to [Dr. Regina] Dugan, the lack of emphasis on science and engineering education in America has resulted in possible future manpower shortages for an agency that Dugan herself called “the nation’s elite army of futuristic technogeeks.” Dugan said the coming shortage is pinching DARPA at both ends. Over the 2000s, DARPA saw its funding cut by half, making it harder to recruit new scientists. Simultaneously, US colleges graduated 43 percent fewer science and computing students, shrinking the pool of potential scientists for DARPA to choose from.

As you might expect, the problems at DARPA are a microcosm of those facing high-tech industries. The website of defense contractor Northrop-Grumman lists more than 50 vacancies for college students and recent graduates. All require an engineering, science or business background. For more experienced applicants, Northrop-Grumman also has openings for more than 500 engineers. Similar openings exist at other high-tech firms; degree holders in art history, women's studies and dance need not apply.

Moviegoers of a certain age remember that classic scene from The Graduate, where recent college grad Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is given one word of career guidance: "Plastics." Similar advice for members of Generation-Y could be summed up in a single phrase: "Science and Technology." Even with Barack Obama in the White House, there is still a demand for individuals with that type of background. The other option? Join the legion of liberal arts grads competing for that grill position at McDonalds.


jms said...

My one word -- Engineering. While liberal arts students are exposed to four years of idealistic garbage and social theories that don't work, engineering students suffer a minimum of that, and are exposed to four years of scientific theory, math, and truth about the physical world -- ideas and things that do work.

It is one of the last uncorrupted university degree paths.

Paul G. said...

Wow, a beaut. It's ok if you don't like Obama but lets call a spade a spade:

Starting with your "remaking the US in the image of France" comment:

1) Can you name another G-8 or how about G-20 country that does not have universal health care? Maybe Indonesia.

2) Feuds with our Allies? Come on, remember George W. Bush? The guy that Britain thought was more dangerous than Kim Jong-Il? Mr. "You're with us or you're against us?" How quickly we forget.

3) Over-reliance on diplomacy, Seriously? Over-reliance on a military option moved us quickly into Iraq and found the WMDs, committed 250,000 troops, many military deaths, and is costing us $2 billion per week (

4) Perpetual patience with our's a good thing GWBush acted to prevent Iran from getting nukes, oh wait, he didn't, for 8 years. W really solved North Korea too in the time he was in office, by not waiting.

The best is that you blame Obama's policies for unemployment. You do know that our current recession started in December 2007, again, when bush was president, right?

(And apparently Henninger forgets how many private sector jobs Obama saved at GM, Chrysler, oh, and every major financial institution.)

But no matter what we agree or disagree on, lets keep this in mind from David Brooks' NYTimes column on Monday: "The United States already measures at the top or close to the top of nearly every global measure of economic competitiveness. A comprehensive 2008 Rand Corporation study found that the U.S. leads the world in scientific and technological development. The U.S. now accounts for a third of the world’s research-and-development spending. Partly as a result, the average American worker is nearly 10 times more productive than the average Chinese worker, a gap that will close but not go away in our lifetimes."

Ken Prescott said...

"Can you name another G-8 or how about G-20 country that does not have universal health care?"

Obviously, your mother never asked if "If every other kid was jumping off a cliff, would you join them?"

Universal health care and the other trappings of the social-democratic state are precisely why France and other countries have such high structural unemployment, and why it disproportionately affects the young.

"(And apparently Henninger forgets how many private sector jobs Obama saved at GM, Chrysler, oh, and every major financial institution.)"

They aren't private sector jobs anymore. GM, Chrysler, and the TARP banks are now effectively agents of the state. And, in becoming state agencies, they do a marvelous job of showing why "crony capitalism" is such a bad idea.

planethou said...

I follow your blog and almost always agree with it. In this case I agree with your thoughts on education. However, after reading your blog, I found myself thinking many of the things Paul G. so nicely wrote. Your blog seemed to me to be a little one sided with a targeted memory. Usually I find your blog looking more at the big picture, with a better, more balanced memory.

Unknown said...

...recession started in December 2007, again, when bush was president, right?

I guess the the very solid Democratic Congress at the time gets no credit at all? :)

Unknown said...

Brooks failed to mention the basis for his great optimism is that Obama will be gone in 2.5 year :)

lgude said...

To come to our hosts defense I took the France comparison to be mainly aimed at an overly realistic foreign policy to the point of ineffectiveness and weakness. Obama is beginning to look more and more like Carter. Bush's problem wasn't his willingness to defend us, it was his lack of skill.

As to the health care debate the problem is unique to the US which spends twice as much on health care (16% of GDP )as other first world countries including France and where I live Australia (8.5% of GDP for both our universal public and our private system combined). Government in the US already pays 50% of health care costs so it should be clear we are spending way too much. The health outcomes are about the same and, while the US is right up there, it is is not the healthiest nation on earth. For that money it should be. It is clear to me that the US has a structural problem in the way it finances health care. The Health Care Bill did nothing to fix the structural problems and probably made it worse. Good luck with it.

The danger of Social Democracy for the US that I see as an expatriate is that culturally Americans are different than Europeans. We broke free of too powerful government in the 18th century and showed we could make it work to the point of leading the world. The French revolution failed - ours didn't. It is an illusion that we can retreat to the big government paternalism of Europe. I think the current loss of confidence is in part a response to the ineptness of the Bush administration but I notice that the US public is rejecting Obama faster than they did Bush. In my view we have been badly let down by both parties overspending and the inability to effectively discharge our responsibilities as the worlds leading power. Bush badly mishandled those responsibilities for far too long before he learned to do better. Obama seems to me to be trying to avoid those responsibilities such as stopping Iran or keeping Russia honest. I think the US can and must do better.

Storms24 said...

Paul G. - Do you have any military or national security experience? Let me guess: liberal arts degree from a mid-level New York university?

Chris said...

"The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools."

I'm somewhat disappointed in your slam on the liberal arts. The liberal arts, classically, were the cultural repository of wisdom that was deemed essential for a free man to possess. I think it is highly important that we reinvigorate real liberal arts education at all levels. I'm in the military today and I am constantly distressed at the level of ignorance about basic history, rhetoric, even grammar -- all core liberal arts.

I'm a supporter of a more Jeffersonian education, which includes some of the technical specialties you endorse but also includes the liberal arts.

"The objects of... primary education [which] determine its character and limits [are]: To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed." --Thomas Jefferson: Report for University of Virginia, 1818.

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