The Road Ahead for Middle Class Families

Middle-class families are squeezed as never before. Here, ten ideas to help us all get back on track.

By Barbara Kantrowitz from Reader's Digest | November 2011

IDEA 4 Rebuild our infrastructure During the Great Depression in the 1930s, millions of Americans found work through federal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, which built highways, cleared slums, and even painted murals in public buildings. That history inspires political economist Robert Reich of the University of California at Berkeley, who served as secretary of labor under President Clinton. “The magnitude of the current jobs and growth crisis demands a boldness and urgency that’s utterly lacking,” Reich has written. He advocates reinstituting these New Deal programs because they put unemployed people directly to work. President Obama clearly agrees with that concept. His proposed American Jobs Act includes $140 billion for infrastructure projects that the White House says would put “hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job.”

WILL HELP: Workers of all ages because the programs give young people valuable job experience and help older workers get back on their feet.

WON’T HELP: Workers who need to improve their technical skills in order to win higher-paying jobs.

CHALLENGES: Requires billions in federal spending. Is Congress willing to support a larger economic role for government?

IDEA 5 Support community colleges Every year, more than a third of U.S. workers change jobs, and more than 30 million Americans are working in newly created jobs. Many are also in occupations that didn’t even exist five years ago, such as social media coordinator. One of the best ways to meet the need for constant training is community colleges. “They’re a linchpin,” says Davis Jenkins, senior researcher at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. “Community colleges do so many things and work with so many people.” Community colleges can partner with local industries to keep workers’ skills current and attract new business to a region. Community colleges also help people who cannot afford more expensive four-year schools. Programs that provide one- or two-year certificates in technical areas, such as engineering or health care, can really pay off. Twenty-seven percent of certificate holders earn more than people with a bachelor’s degree. Certificate holders in engineering, for example, earn around $47,000 annually.

WILL HELP: Older workers looking for retraining and younger workers who don’t want or are unable to afford a four-year degree; employers facing a shortage of skilled workers.

WON’T HELP: People whose high school education hasn’t prepared them for higher-level studies. CHALLENGES: Many states have cut funding to community colleges.

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