Roundtable: Working Class Study Group
(Employment and Training Programs)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Madison A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Moderators:  Lawrence Mead, New York University
Speakers:  Tamar Jacoby, Opportunity America, Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution and Bruce Reed, Aspen Institute

This roundtable will present and discuss the Working Class Study Group and its findings. The Study Group is a body of experts convened by Opportunity America, the Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute to study the difficulties of working class Americans. Those problems, which include family decline and drug addiction as well as employment, attained new prominence when disaffected workers in the Midwest proved crucial to Donald Trump’s election as president. The political class suddenly realized that this group, long taken for granted in Washington, had been left behind by globalization.

An expert group created by the think tanks AEI and Brookings issued an influential report in 2015 on how to combat poverty and inequality. The new group is similar but aimed higher up the income scale. It focuses on workers with incomes between the 20th and 50th percentiles in the family income distribution, and who have graduated from high school but not college. As with AEI/Brookings, the group members are all leading experts on these questions but chosen to balance liberal and conservative perspectives. Several members have served on both groups. The new group has also invited presentations from outside scholars and conducted a field trip to study top-rated training and drug treatment programs in Louisville, KY.

Like AEI/Brookings, our report will state general themes and then present data on the adverse trends in working class life—such as declining employment, family stability, and health conditions and rising substance abuse. The following chapters will address how policy could better respond to these challenges. We will recommend how to raise the skills of less educated workers and increase demand for them in the labor market. At the same time we need to raise work levels by the less skilled and reduce their reliance on government benefits. How to improve health, family, and community life for these workers will also be covered. All chapters are being drafted by group members with contrasting perspectives, and the final proposals will be those supported by the group as a whole. Our report should be finalized by the time of the APPAM conference in November.

At this roundtable, Lawrence Mead as chair will introduce the other panelists and moderate the discussion. Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, will describe the origin of the group and its rationale. Then our proposals will be summarized by two leading group members with different perspectives. Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institution will present a more conservative appraisal and Bruce Reed from the Aspen Institute a more liberal one. Discussion with the audience will follow.

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