Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
An Incremental Journey to Fiscal Stability
June 20, 2011
by Michelle Kirtley
Elections are won and lost on the basis of how Americans feel about the economy. Yet for many Christians fiscal policy sounds as dry and disconnected from their spiritual view of the world as a macroeconomics textbook. But, as Michael Gerson reminded us last week in these pages, “there is a moral value to economic growth.” God designed man to work and create alongside Him, and Christians should advocate for “policies that encourage the creation of private sector jobs, which are a source of personal independence and dignity.”
But which policies should we pursue? In the near term, there are a few proposals that Congress could enact in an effort to improve the economy, many of which have bipartisan support. These policies are not designed to leap the tall buildings of high unemployment and trillion dollar deficits in a single bound, but they could be part of an incremental journey towards fiscal stability.
Although our national unemployment rate remains high, some key industries are facing labor shortages. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has repeatedly asked Congress to increase the number of specialized H1B visas awarded to foreign workers with highly specialized skills. Technology jobs are leading the recovery, but for the last several years, applications for H1B visas have dramatically exceeded the number of H1B visas allowed annually. In 2008, the cap was reached on the very first day applications were accepted, creating a labor crunch for companies such as IBM, Oracle, and Intel, which rely heavily of H1B visas to support their research and development divisions. Allowing these companies to employ foreign workers in the U.S. keeps associated jobs and needed tax revenue in the U.S.
The health care industry faces a shortage of trained lab technicians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that through 2018, the nation needs 10,000 additional trained lab personnel to fulfill demand. California is facing a shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. We must develop policies that encourage vocational training so that the unemployed can gain the necessary skills to fill available jobs. The Government Accountability Office has found that many current federal vocational training initiatives are disjointed and ineffective. However, creative community-based partnerships between professional societies facing labor shortages, community colleges, and local communities may offer a more targeted approach to workforce training.
In the long term, we need to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education domestically so that we rely less on international labor. We must also broaden the range of vocational opportunities available to students earlier in their educational careers. Educational choice—allowing parents to take government funds to the school of their choice—would allow parents to better help their children choose a career path suited to their child’s particular skills.
Government should allow small businesses room to innovate and flourish. As recently noted by The Economist, the Kaufman Foundation estimates that firms less than 5 years old accounted for over 75% of all net job creation between 1980 and 2005. Our tax system should incentivize entrepreneurship and be simple enough for independent businesses to comply without hiring an army of tax accountants.
Small businesses also offer people in vulnerable communities a path to financial stability. According to 2010 Census data, 1 in 3 small businesses is woman-owned, and the number of black-owned businesses jumped more than 60% between 2002 and 2007, totaling more than $137 billion in annual sales. As reported in the The Washington Post:
"The growth is phenomenal," said Alford, the grandson of a sharecropper and son of a truck driver. "When you write your own signature on both sides of the check, you start building wealth. I think America's getting better."
Finally, we need to improve infrastructure nationally—not only interstates and public transportation systems—but also technological infrastructure, such as internet access. We rank 15th out of the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in broadband availability. Access to basic technology is necessary for small businesses to emerge and compete, and infrastructure development creates jobs of its own, particularly in rural areas and manufacturing towns, often hardest hit by recessions.
None of these proposals offers a silver bullet for the systemic unemployment facing our nation. Some will be difficult to enact. The H1B visa program is tied to the seemingly intractable immigration debate. Small business tax relief will not be easily accomplished in the absence of comprehensive tax reform. But as Christians, we must remember that these economic issues—difficult and obtuse as they can sometimes be—are at the heart of public justice and the common good.
—Michelle Kirtley is the Associate Editor for Capital Commentary, a Trustee of the Center for Public Justice, and a former health and science policy advisor on Capitol Hill.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”