As the economy slows, keeping the focus on the struggle of every day people

Lots of stories today about the terrible jobs report, and what this means for the marcoeconomy. David Leonhardt from the Times does a terrific job today putting all this news in perspective, and reminds us that far too many Americans had not shared in the wealth created in the Bush era:

If history is a reliable guide, the recession of 2008 is now unavoidable.

The dismal jobs report released Friday showed overall employment to be lower than it was three months ago. Every time such a slump has occurred since the early 1970s, a recession has followed - or already been under way.

And if the good times have really ended, they were never that good to begin with. Most American households are still not earning as much annually as they did in 1999, once inflation is taken into account. Since the Census Bureau began keeping records in the 1960s, a prolonged expansion has never ended without household income having set a new record...

Recent recessions have inevitably brought inflation-adjusted income declines for most families, which would be particularly painful given what has happened over the last decade. For a variety of reasons that economists only partly understand - including technological change and global trade - many workers have received only modest raises in recent years, despite healthy economic growth.

The median household earned $48,201 in 2006, down from $49,244 in 1999, according to the Census Bureau. It now looks as if a full decade may pass before most Americans receive a raise.

What this all means for economic policy is that whatever set of policies are put into place to put the economy back on track they must be capable of addressing the struggle experienced by every day people prior to the current slowdown/recession. Offering up such a strategy has been at the heart of our economic work at NDN these past several years, and based on our recent major survey of American public opinion, is what Americans are desperately looking for. Looking back at the exit polls in 2006, there is even a very strong case that it was unhappiness with the economy that was the primary cause of the extraordinary GOP defeat in the fall elections.

Some highlights of what we've been advocating for:

A New Economic Strategy for America that makes globalization work for all Americans - In a recent paper Rob Shapiro argues that America needs a comprehensive new economic strategy, one that tackles rising health care and energy costs, accelerates innovation and makes significant investment in human capital and infrastructure.

A More Modern Approach to Trade Liberalization - In a major paper about the future of US trade policy, Rob Shapiro and I argue for a a continued commitment to global liberalization but only if coupled with a substantial new domestic approach to help those struggling with globalization prosper.

A New Committment to 21st Century Skills - In two papers, a Laptop in Every Backpack and Tapping the Resources of America's Community Colleges, NDN makes the case for a new national strategy to ensure that all Americans have the capacity to work in the much more IT-intensive work environment of the 21st century.

A Better Understanding of What is Driving Growth - In a new paper, The Idea-Based Economy and Globalization: The Real Foundations of American Prosperity in the 21st Century, Rob Shapiro describes how the American economy is undergoing an historic transformation from one built on hard physical assets to one built on intellectual property and intangibles - "ideas." The implications for policy makers here and abroad are only just being understood, and need to be if better understood in crafting future American policies to accelerate future growth.

The Need to Invest in our Aging Infrastructure - In a major new paper, NDN Fellow Michael Moynihan makes the case a major new commitment to investing in domestic infrastructure will help drive future growth and improve America's quality of life.

A 21st Century Immigration System -We need a much more modern approach to bring both high and low skilled workers into America, in ways that meet the needs of our modern economy and does so in a way consistent with our values. NDN has been one of the leading institutions championing a thoughtful approach to immigration reform, and certainly for those looking to relieve downward pressure on wages and benefits for American workers bringing the 5% of the workforce that is undocumented under the protection of American law, giving them access to the minimum wage and the ability to unionize would be a good place to start.

NDN also recently announced a major new initiative, tentatively titled the Green Project, which will be looking at ways to help transition our nation to a post-carbon economy while maintaining growth.

The economic path forward will not be easy, inexpensive or full of quick fixes. Globalization is bringing about structural changes in our economy that are not well understood, and helping make the American Dream a much more distant reality for too many. Whatever set of policies the nation pursues in the years ahead, it is critical we take a long-term view, and advance a comprehensive agenda that tackles the underlying structural challenges of what was already a very tough go of it in the age of Bush.

To talk more about all this be sure to come to our Forum this Wednesday, March 12th, in Washington, DC. Rob Shapiro, the Chair of our Globalization Initiative, will be speaking about these and other matters at 1:15pm.