This week, the two men running for president of the United States will debate each other for the first time. In an unprecedented move, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced subject themes for each of the three debates. Wednesday's debate will take place in Denver and is designed to confront the economic challenges that we are facing and what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would do to change the path we are on for the better.
It is clear that in order to improve the economy, more drastic measures must be taken. We cannot continue seeing this level of unemployment, stagnation and job creation if we are going to grow the middle class, compete in the global marketplace and improve the lives of the currently un- or underemployed. What is most troubling for CEOs like me is watching the federal government make short term fixes that are designed to maximize political impact but fail to confront the challenges we are now facing.
CareerBliss, for example, has over three million open jobs available in the US but many go unfilled because the potential employers feel that candidates who are applying are not qualified. With staggering unemployment rates and open jobs sitting vacant, something is clearly wrong. Job applicants are not trained and equipped to fill many of the jobs available. Federal, state and local governments must start reforming education to prepare Americans for growth industries and to meet the needs of the future. If we fail to train U.S. workers, the jobs will either leave the U.S. or these companies will have no choice but to outsource them to stay competitive. We only have a limited amount of time to change our current course or limit our growth.
So far, both sides of the political coin do not seem to be addressing the core issues. The Wall Street Journal recently had a front page article describing the Federal Reserves' current strategy of buying back mortgage securities to the tune of $40 billion. The idea is to help homeowners lower their payments by helping the banks that hold their mortgages lower their interest rates. Many economists argue that the banks still have not passed along the savings they got from the Fed previously -- so why would they do it this time? Banks and other mortgage holders have not lowered the interest rates on homeowners and will be hesitant to do so. Additionally, most homeowners will not be helped by a simple rate adjustment that will save a small percentage of their total payment.
It is obvious to everyone but the politicians that homeowners are underwater because they assumed home prices would rise when they took on the risk and purchased a home over their means. Homeowners assumed the risk because history had shown that home prices were rising. Is it not inevitable that these homeowners are going to have to downsize their current home to meet the current housing prices? Why is the American taxpayer expected to try and keep them in the current home -- one they cannot afford anyway? Many folks are actually relieved to finally get out from under their giant house payments.
A better fix for the economy and unemployed workers is to give them a job in a growing field. The security that comes from working in a growing, not dying, industry will do more for the middle class than any mortgage rate deduction ever could. The Federal Reserve should spend the $40 billion they want to spend on trying to lower mortgage rates for underwater homeowners instead on re-training un- and underemployed workers. Retooling America's educational system to require high school graduates to learn the language of computer science over German should take precedence. Giving incentives to businesses that hire under qualified workers with the intention of training them to become qualified is also a worthy investment. Getting out-of-work Americans qualified to fill the three million plus open jobs must be our politicians' top priority. This isn't rocket-science and it shouldn't be political science.
Investing in a qualified and equipped workforce will build the infrastructure that every business from a small start-up to Apple needs to be competitive. The more competitive these businesses become the more jobs they create. Imagine the boost in self-confidence alone as the average American goes from handouts for our homes to promotions at work.
On Wednesday night in Denver, I will be waiting to hear how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will fill the millions of jobs currently open. For all the talk of job creation, the immediate problem is qualified American workers to fill the jobs we have already created. Buying bad debt in another round of unprecedented support for the mortgage market is a waste of our tax dollars and another boom for the banks while under qualified Americans watch millions of jobs go unfilled. With this money and more like it going to education, training and encouraging businesses to hire and train, we could fix not only our current gap in qualified workers but also prepare Americans for the best possible jobs for generations.