First, let me say I kind of have a problem with Mr. Trump’s tagline. It’s true that America once had companies that were the envy of the world: General Motors, Ford, and General Electric, to name a few. But if you think that America is past its heyday because those companies are past their heyday, then I guess you’ve never heard of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook—American companies that today are the envy of the world.
But I digress, because there are important ways that America is either in decline or has greatly slowed.
It is certainly true that in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s we made a lot of stuff that the world wanted to buy—refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, automobiles, and on and on. “Made in America” was a sought-after label that brought a great deal of pride. What happened?
Did we lose jobs and industries to better or cheaper overseas competitors? Or did something else occur?
Consider that in 1910, approximately 10 percent of American workers worked on farms. I am quite certain that figure is less than 1 percent today—and yet we grow more than we need. Agricultural exports remain one of our largest export categories.
I think everyone knows what happened. Farming became more and more mechanized and American workers in that sector mostly moved from physically demanding, low-paying jobs to manufacturing, which, while also physically demanding, paid a lot better.
In the 1980s and ’90s we began another transition from physically demanding but now relatively low-paying manufacturing jobs to a more tech-based economy. And there was a new demand on workers: tech work is knowledge intensive. For the most part, it requires more education to get a job in tech than it does to get a job in manufacturing.
In 1970 there were plenty of well- paying manufacturing jobs for people with a high school degree. In 2020, not so much. But if you have a four-year college degree in math or science, the world may be your oyster. And here lies both opportunity and danger.
The danger is a growing belief in America that a college education is not worth the time or the money. In China, however, students are graduating with STEM degrees (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) at about eight times the rate as U.S. students.
If you’re worried about manufacturing jobs lost to China, you’re looking in the rearview mirror. The real threat to America today is also our greatest asset—the tech sector. The largest tech companies outside of the U.S. are in China—and they are growing fast.
What can make America great again? There are no silver bullets, no quick solutions that a president or Congress can enact. The solution is a long-term one. And in recent decades, we have been a very short-sighted country. It’s time to change that. In order to defend our tech dominance and continue to lead the world forward to ever greater advances, we need to invest in education. We need to make it a top priority. And we need, as a nation, to reverse the slowly deteriorating appreciation of advanced education.
When I went to college from 1968 to 1972, my tuition was subsidized by the State of Pennsylvania and by the Federal Government. I was responsible for a total of $75 per year.
With that kind of expense level, I was able to fund my college education with full-time jobs during the summer and part-time jobs during the school year. It’s a lot harder to do that today.
I believe that an educated workforce in a free capitalist society can continue to lead the world. But it’s going to take more commitment to education than we have been willing to make in recent decades. It’s going to take the kind of commitment that turned out the greatest workers in the world when America revolutionized and democratized education by making grade school free for all up to grade 12. In the 1970s, it looked like we were trying to extend that to include a college education. But we have retreated from that. People aren’t so much devaluing a college education as responding to how much more difficult it is to get one. We need to change that. I hope we will.
Hal Masover is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor and a registered representative. His firm, Investment Insights, Inc is at 508 N 2nd Street, Suite 203, Fairfield, IA 52556. Securities offered through, Cambridge Investment Research, Inc, a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisor Representative, Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Investment Insights, Inc & Cambridge are not affiliated. Comments and questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org These are the opinions of Hal Masover and not necessarily those of Cambridge, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice. Investing involves risk. Depending on the types of investments, there may be varying degrees of risk. Investors should be prepared to bear loss, including total loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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