The Wayne Gretzky Approach to Economic Growth

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The Wayne Gretzky Approach to Economic Growth

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is particularly remembered for attributing his success to skating to “where the puck will be,” rather than “where it is.” Among the worst tragedies of the current economic transition is the fact that all too many people are still positioned in terms of skills and expectations for “where the jobs were and are,” rather than “where they are going to be.”

More than ten years ago, the Trends editors identified the “skills gap” as the most daunting institutional transition the U.S. economy would have to complete before it could fully embrace the Deployment Phase of the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution.

Unfortunately, that transition is still a work in progress. In March 2015, the U.S. labor force participation rate matched a 37-year low of 62.7 percent.1 Nevertheless, the headline unemployment totaled only 5.5 percent, the lowest level in seven years. That is only possible because a multifaceted “social safety net” has enabled so many people to take themselves out of the workforce.

More significant is why they have gotten out. The truth is that their skills and self-perceptions don’t fit the jobs that are available. Too few Americans have the skills needed for the economic flywheel jobs that drive value creation—and that leaves many of them only with offers to do the proverbial “jobs that Americans don’t want to do anymore.”

As documented recently in the trend called The Middle-Class Jobs Crisis, good-paying, middle-skilled jobs have increasingly disappeared. They’ve been replaced by low-paying, low-skilled jobs and high-paying, high-skilled jobs. We won’t go back over the history of the well-documented and irrefutable shift that began in the 1980s. However, we will take a brief look at the specific industries and job categories that have shown the greatest recent advances and declines.

Based on official statistics, the Brookings Institution’s Metro Program has demonstrated that broad-based local and national prosperity derives from the extraordinary productivity of “advanced industries.” Advanced industries are those that invest heavily in research and development, as well as in STEM workers—employees with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.2

However, Brookings concedes that, “Since 1980 advanced industries’ aggregate output has expanded at better than 5 percent a year even as the sector’s overall employment has remained mostly flat...

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