We Built America

PREAMBLE

Recognizing that many economies and industries across the United States have stalled or are experiencing a downturn further impacted by the effects of the Corona virus; and

These impacts have been most prominently felt in rural communities across the U.S. and specifically in the great mid-western states; and

The degradation of these important communities, and the impact it’s had on the families and people that helped propel America into the 21st Century, is a real and urgent threat to our environmental, economic, health, and food security for years to come; and

At the same time, there is a growing unmet demand for people with relevant skills in high-tech digital, medical, manufacturing, and services sectors to contribute in new ways to build up existing and emerging industries, supporting the viability of this country at a time when global competition is eroding our own capacity to economically and intellectually innovate, prosper and thrive.

THEREFORE

The following outlines a bill, notionally titled the "We Built America" Act, modeled after the G.I. Bill, designed to recognize past contributions, and assist/support the transition of Americans in industries that have been key to US industrial development and economic prosperity, but have since fallen behind in skills and opportunities in a transitioning economy. 

Carpenter at Work
MAJOR FEATURES
  • Like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, eligibility would be based on demonstrated qualifications, such as:

    • Employment for 10 years or longer in the coal, automotive, agriculture, or similar industries where currently available jobs no longer support the local populace  -OR-

    • Long-term residence in a previously industrial area that now has an unemployment or under-employment rate exceeding the national average by 2.5% 

  • 20-year sunset clause.  For adult recipients who have been in distressed industries or localities for 10-15 years, this kind of training can function as a bridge to social security. For mid-lifers, it can be an unexpected opportunity for their children to pursue the educational program of their choice with no student debt.

  • Like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, this legislation is focused on and messaged as rewarding those whose service was instrumental to American prosperity/security.

  • Like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, this legislation offers full expenses plus a stipend for individuals in education or upskilling/reskilling training.  ELIGIBLE INDIVIDUALS MAY USE ALL OR SOME OF THE BENEFIT THEMSELVES, OR THEY CAN ASSIGN IT TO THEIR CHILDREN/GRANDCHILDREN for education and training outside of the distressed industry.

ANTICIPATED BENEFITS AND

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

  • Helps shift fears about a transitioning economy and resentment of a perceived lack of recognition of generations of contributions into hope for the future.

  • Helps transition individuals and communities away from distressed and/or unsustainable industries and toward other relevant emerging and competitive Industries (such as but not limited to “green” and digital opportunities) without feeling like a forcing function.

  • Framed in terms of an earned benefit, it is easy for recipients to accept and take advantage of.

  • If recipients accept the benefit themselves, it eases personal financial stress like the $600/week pandemic benefit did during their school/training, equips them with new skills, and adds money into distressed local economies.

    • A key incentive area for some with manual skills might be the extension of modern infrastructure like 5G and high-bandwidth internet, mass transit, green power grids, improved water management and distribution systems, flood control, or desalinization facilities, as well as more traditional infrastructure improvements like roads and bridges.

    • Another area of growing need is digital skills in cybersecurity, information technology systems administration and support, data management, and software/app development.

  • If recipients transfer the benefit to children, those children are more likely to leave the distressed area for schooling. They will gain the perspective college provides while breaking the chain of family members expected to only follow their parents’ footsteps in industries that either no longer exist or are unsustainable for the future.  It is anticipated these new workers could return back home after a few years of education and job experience, contributing to new ways of thinking, enacting and contributing to new industries.

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  • Legislators should also consider pairing this bill with a ROTC-like program (or adapt AMERICORPS, CYBER CORPS, FEMA CORPS, or other Scholarship-for-Service (SFS) programs) to provide follow-on government (state or Fed) employment for 2-4 years if the trainee gets a degree or cert in a desired field (such as a “green” industry, cyber/IT, teaching, urban forest management, etc.).

    • Alternatively or as a complement to pairing with these existing programs, Legislators, the Administration, and employers could collectively convene a public-private partnership aimed at establishing a nationally recognized, standardized, and accredited paid apprenticeship program such as is common in many European and other countries. 

      • Such programs are a proven approach to providing a reliable, respected workforce development path toward well-paying jobs in areas—including many digital/IT/cybersecurity, high-tech manufacturing, and smart grid installation and sustainment skills—that do not require university degrees but can be attained through a certification, trade/vocational school, nano-degree,  community college, or similar program. They may involve on-the-job training, employer sponsored work-study (for more specialized or technical skills), or a combination, depending on industry sector requirements (such as licensing), desired skill set, and employer selection. With defined standards determined by each trade, employers gain workers they know will have the skills they need.

      • A key aspect of such a program is salary. A suggested standard for these new apprenticeships is 10% above local minimum wage (plus employer 401K and health benefits if those are available to other employees) to establish the pipeline, with incremental increases as the apprentice progresses to journeyman and advanced levels. Salary targets would be established based on a sector-by-sector basis (with regional cost of living considerations that could be pegged to similar COLA rates established for military enlisted members) to reflect average salaries for entry-level-plus-2-years for Journeymen, topping out at 10% below industry sector average salaries for experienced (5-6 years) new-hires in that industry/region, in order to encourage participants to transition fully into industry.

      • Participants would receive their WBA stipend in the form of a retirement savings account such as the Government’s Thrift Savings Plan (they may elect their employer’s 401K plan if available) throughout their apprenticeship program—much like military personnel—in addition to receiving the established apprenticeship rates described above, providing a stronger financial start for young and transitioning workers.

      • Companies participating in a nationally accredited program would benefit through the initial government contribution to apprentice salaries—making the program attractive and drawing applicants; simplified recruiting; established partnerships with local schools; a bigger pipeline with more standardized skills; a de facto career progression plan for participants; and trainees with experience on their specific systems and processes and a built-in loyalty. Additional possible incentives, which could be offered at the local, state, or federal level depending on the economic demand for the skills in question, are discussed below.

  • Eligible Americans will be broadly represented across the US, depending on what industries are selected (automotive, mining/drilling, cattle ranching, fishing, logging, etc.).

  • For recipients in agricultural areas, provisions would be made to keep the land in the hands of their families (for example, exceptions and capping of Capital Gains tax on land inheritance or other similar measures).  This is analogous to the tax benefits many disabled veterans receive related to mortgages and property taxes. It may be possible to do something similar in other geographic areas as well, such as incentives to relocate away from fire-, flood- and/or hurricane-prone areas.

  • This bill has the potential to function as a “healing” initiative by validating the value and contributions to American prosperity of aggrieved “left behinds’” while breaking the chain of family connection to phase-out industries and facilitating growth of more sustainable ones.

POTENTIAL OFFSETS

  • Some offsets are likely simply as consequences of its implementation: medical and social services costs (such as addiction support and emergency services), short-term social security, potential for infrastructure revitalization that provides long-term jobs and increases in local economic prosperity/tax bases.

  • A tax on corporations over a determined size could be established on the rationale that these corporations will be the beneficiaries of the revitalized workforce the WBA aims to produce, whether they are in emerging fields that will benefit from re-skillers, up-skillers and new trainees, or transitioning industries that would otherwise bear the costs of re-skilling and upskilling existing workers themselves.

    • Tax and Employer financial credits/benefits could be offered to large companies/corporations to invest in and be part of the WBA. This would partially compensate corporations who participate.

      • Companies could invest in the program through direct sponsorship of training programs and grants/scholarships in their communities

      • Another key way in which corporations could participate by offering the hands-on training programs—which may range from paid apprenticeships to work-study programs in partnership with local community colleges and academies—that are instrumental to effective reskilling (Aspen Institute, McKinsey & Co., and others have documented the utility and effectiveness of such programs, particularly for delivering foundational digital skills, which many companies in every industry sector need) and offering follow-on employment opportunities.

IMPLEMENTATION

The measure of success and a key feature of the We Built America Bill would be local involvement and engagement. Communities would have the opportunity to help identify the best education and training solutions and partnerships to align with local culture, infrastructure, transportation limitations, digital connectivity/ opportunities, land use, and other considerations. With legislative or agency oversight to ensure fair distrobution, the "We Built America" Act can not only benefit individuals and their families in recognition of their historical contributions to American prosperity, but also to rebuild the vitality and infrastructure of local communities to better prepare them for the future. 

NEXT STEPS

We hope you will take time to review this proposal at webuiltamerica.co, discuss it with your legislators, executives, thought-leaders, and policy developers as well as share it on social media with the hashtag #webuiltamerica. 

This notional draft bill was developed by a non-partisan group of small business owners, veterans, and private citizens who understand the challenges of economies in transition and want to create a bridge to a better future for all. It is our hope that interested individuals from across the political spectrum will consider it as a basis for future bipartisan legislation aimed at improving the lives and futures of Americans through recognition of their past contributions, and assistance toward realizing their potential for future growth.

Questions or Inquiries?

Email info@webuiltamerica.co