Investment in human capital must begin in our classrooms, and Mitt Romney is committed to helping states pursue reforms that will return our schools to world leadership. But the return on that investment will pay dividends in the decades to come, a time horizon far removed from the immediacy of the present crisis.
Romney sees two important objectives that America can pursue immediately to build on the extraordinary traditional strengths of its workforce.
The first is to retrain American workers to ensure that they have the education and skills to match the jobs of today's economy. The second is to attract the best and brightest from around the world. The two approaches are complementary; many of this country's most vigorous job creators have come here from abroad. In a period of chronic high unemployment such as we are enduring now, retraining workers to fill the opportunities in rising sectors of the new economy remains an especially vital task.
Mitt Romney will approach retraining policy with a conservative mindset that recognizes it as an area where the federal government is particularly ill-equipped to succeed. Retraining efforts must be founded upon a partnership that brings together the states and the private sector. The sprawling federal network of redundant bureaucracies should be dismantled and the funds used for better purposes.
Consolidate Redundant Programs
The current retraining system is a labyrinth of federal programs and middle men that consumes a large share of the money intended for services to the unemployed. As noted earlier, federal retraining efforts currently sprawl across 47 programs and 9 agencies. Upon reviewing the 47 retraining programs, the GAO
found that 44 of the programs overlapped with at least one other program. As president, Mitt Romney will immediately move to evaluate existing programs, eliminate redundancy, and consolidate funding streams. As much current activity as possible should be concentrated in a single program at a single agency, with
other specialized programs surviving only if there are uniquely situated groups whose needs must be addressed at the federal level.
Give Authority to the States
Once the main body of federal retraining funds has been channeled to a single program, a President Romney will push for the program to operate by issuing block grants to states and evaluating results. Unlike the federal government, states are close to the ground and have the ability to meet the particular needs of
their region and local population. As things stand, there is a disconnect between the needs of unemployed Americans and the strictures of the federal programs.
Funding is all too often earmarked for the wrong purposes and does not make its way to Americans in need. States must be given more flexibility to use retraining funds to address their local conditions.
Many states have taken positive steps to address unemployment through retraining. States could have far more room to experiment if resources were not tied up in rigid federal programs. While some experiments will undoubtedly prove unsuccessful, those that achieve results can be studied and copied elsewhere.
But each state will be able to adjust each program to its specific circumstances. The appropriate role for the federal government is in implementing stringent accountability measures to ensure that the money is well spent rather than in controlling how it is spent.
Create Personal Reemployment Accounts
One particularly promising approach that Mitt Romney supports and believes states should be encouraged to pursue is a system of Personal Reemployment Accounts for unemployed individuals. Each eligible participant would have control over an account that contained funds to be put toward retraining. Instead of a one-
size-fits-all approach that spends enormous sums on overhead, individuals would control their own funds and could use their accounts to pursue any one of a range of options. Individuals could decide, for example, to enroll in a local community college and gain skills in the classroom or they could pursue other forms of
technical or vocational training. Or they could use their funds to participate in state-run programs--but such programs would be subject to market forces and would receive funding only to the extent that individuals found the government's offering to be most the attractive. The point is that an individual knows better than
the government what avenue will lead most rapidly to a job.
Encourage Private-Sector Participation
Another advantage of Personal Reemployment Accounts is that they would facilitate programs that place individuals directly into companies that provide on-the-job training. In such programs, retraining funds would then be given to the private companies as incentives to hire and train new workers, instead
of being spent to pay the salaries of federal bureaucrats. To ensure a mutually beneficial partnership, companies would earn the funds only upon retraining and retaining an individual for a sufficient period of time. While programs that provide incentives for private-sector participation already exist, their potential
has been hindered by inflexible federal requirements. Nonetheless, some have shown promise.
As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney helped create an on-the-job program that reimbursed private companies for training expenses. It fostered a market in which private enterprises sought out unemployed people--an approach that both parties found remunerative. Georgia's retraining program, Georgia
Works, has shown impressive success by allowing individuals to continue to receive unemployment benefits while training at private-sector companies. These companies incur no expense, yet they are connected to a pool of individuals who are eager and available to be trained and, potentially, hired. In turn, individuals
learn valuable skills, network, and receive a stipend to support their continued search for work.
These examples demonstrate the value of states as the laboratories of democracy, to use Justice Louis Brandeis's famous formulation. But it would be a mistake for the federal government to conclude that a program such as Massachusetts's or Georgia's should be turned into federal programs. The whole point is that these initiatives have succeeded because they are tailor-made for local conditions. Other states should certainly draw upon them as they deem appropriate for their needs. But what works in Alaska may require some significant tweaking before it works in Hawaii. Romney supports private-sector-led retraining initiatives and will seek to ensure that the federal government does not stand in their way.
ATTRACTING THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST
To ensure that America continues to lead the world in innovation and economic dynamism, a Romney administration would press for an immigration policy designed to maximize America's economic potential. The United States needs to attract and retain job creators from wherever they come.
Foreign-born residents with advanced degrees start companies, create jobs, and drive innovation at an especially high rate. While lawful immigrants comprise about 8 percent of the population, immigrants start 16 percent of our top-performing, high-technology companies, hold the position of CEO or lead engineer in 25 percent of high-tech firms, and produce over 25 percent of all patent applications filed from the United States. The presence of hardworking, highly skilled immigrants in our free-enterprise system fosters a special dynamic that is recognized around the world. The net result of their successes is the creation of jobs here in America that would otherwise have been created elsewhere or, more likely, never created at all.
It makes little sense for the United States to turn away highly educated immigrants who seek to come here. It makes equally little sense to train talented foreign students in our universities but then fail to integrate them into our economy. Nearly 300,000 foreign students are enrolled in advanced degrees programs here,
but the great majority will return home. We are casting away the fruits of our own investment. As has long been our American tradition, we should encourage the world's innovators, inventors, and pioneers to immigrate to the United States and we should encourage those we train to settle and create jobs here.
Raise Visa Caps for Highly Skilled Workers
As president, a first step that Mitt Romney will take along these lines is to raise the ceiling on the number of visas issued to holders of advanced degrees in math, science, and engineering who have job offers in those fields from U.S. companies. These workers would not displace unemployed Americans. Rather, they would
fill high-skill job openings for which there is currently an acute shortage of labor. Even in this tough unemployment climate, as of this past spring nearly 1.25 million high-skill jobs remained unfilled.
A skills gap of that magnitude suppresses the productivity of our businesses and slows the overall economy. Highly educated immigrants would help fill that gap and get our economy rolling again. Welcoming a wider pool of highly educated immigrants would lead to more start-ups, more innovation, and more jobs. Each of these workers would in turn be consumers in local economies, creating new demand for other American products and services. Thus, for every foreign worker employed in this way, new job opportunities also arise for those who are currently unemployed.
Retain Graduates of Our Universities
As president, Mitt Romney will also work to establish a policy that staples a green card to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering. These graduates are highly skilled, motivated, English-speaking, and integrated into their American communities. Permanent residency would offer them the certainty required to start businesses and drive American innovation. As with the highly skilled visa holders, these new Americans would generate economic ripples that redounded to the benefit of all.
The United States has long led the world in a range of cutting-edge sciences and technologies. We did not get to this position by accident. Previous generations of American leaders had the vision to invest in the institutions that enabled us to flourish. But the wellspring of innovation has to be perpetually replenished. It
is not only a matter of making sure that the world's most brilliant inventors and energetic job creators can a find a home in this country. American workers need to be prepared to work in the new industries that are rising as old ones falter. The Obama administration has failed to meet these challenges. Mitt Romney spent
most of his career working in private enterprise. He has a better way.