The future of economic and human resource development

Our economic attention is currently focused on national politics, with growing risks from a debt ceiling and inflation versus recession debates. But economic prosperity also depends on state, provincial and local policies, and now in the latest edition of the Quarterly Economic Development (EDQ).

EDQ is a leading journal maintained by the WE Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. It brings practitioners and scholars together by “supporting evidence-based economic development and human resources development policies, programs and practice across the United States.” (I am a member of the editorial board and also contributed to this new edition.)

In the new issue, experts from the journal were asked, “What are the key research and policy issues facing economic development and human resource development today?” To reach a wide audience including policy makers, academics, journalists and the general public , The edition is free for a limited time.

The issue contains 15 articles whose scope and excellence make it impossible to summarize. Some focus on business and enterprise, including how to engage entrepreneurs in economic development, what policies and programs are most effective in supporting business and creating jobs. Others analyze how public economic development and the workforce in this field can be most effective in our complex and convoluted systems.

Several articles examine changing workforce dynamics. How can politics deal with macro trends such as globalization, high housing costs and changes in commuting and working from home? Can a more inclusive workforce be part of an effective economic development strategy? What would economic development look like if it paid more attention to environmental issues, racial equality, and family and household issues?

My contribution relates to my new book, Unequal Cities: Overcoming Anti-Urban Bias to Reduce Inequality in the United States. The book describes how America depends on cities for innovation, growth, and productivity, but also how our political systems—regional, state, and national—are biased against cities.

This pervasive bias keeps both regional and national productivity and growth low. And it perpetuates racially stratified inequality in jobs, economic growth, housing and education.

Affluent (and mostly white) suburbs capture the lion’s share of urban economic growth but don’t pay their fair share of the costs. This persistent and structural racial bias is perpetuated over time by our public policies and fragmented metropolitan governments. This, in turn, makes it very difficult for cities to tackle these problems on their own.

I contend that hypermathematized models in urban economics divert energy away from a more empirical engagement with our economic and labor force problems. We need a multidisciplinary analysis of politics, with a particular focus on how seemingly neutral politics create racial and other forms of inequality. And we must recognize how our metropolitan fragmentation and segregation inhibit shared economic prosperity.

Although there is a wide range of political points of view EDQ edition, all authors use research and analysis to help improve the places we live. This distinguishes this work from much of mainstream urban economics, which is skeptical of place-based strategies. Standard urban economics favors individual-based approaches that emphasize education and skills and encourage mobility of firms and people.

Of course, education and skills development are essential components of sound policy, and several of them EDQ Articles suggest how to improve it. But in the real economy, pundits like those at the Economic Policy Institute show that our policy focus on individualized and enterprise-centric approaches has not translated into shared prosperity.

Instead, as watchdog analysts like Good Jobs First point out, far too often we see wasted tax subsidies going to companies that don’t need them, without decent jobs and other benefits promised in return for the tax breaks. Public education reflects the uneven fragmentation of regional governments, with suburbs creating better education from their higher property tax bases and wealth, while core cities struggle to raise adequate education funding.

So if you’re interested in economic and workforce development, national, regional and city prosperity, and how equity and growth can be combined in public policies, grab your free copy of Quarterly economic development. I’m proud to be in such a respected society and there’s a lot to learn from them.

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