Guardian, April 2021, Robert Reich, America is about to revive an idea that was left for dead decades ago. It’s called industrial policy and it’s at the heart of Joe Biden’s plans to restructure the US economy.
When industrial policy was last debated, in the 1980s, critics recoiled from government “picking winners”. But times have changed. Devastating climate change, a deadly pandemic and the rise of China as a technological powerhouse require an active government pushing the private sector to achieve public purposes.
The dirty little secret is that the US already has an industrial policy, but one that’s focused on pumping up profits with industry-specific subsidies, tax loopholes and credits, bailouts and tariffs. The practical choice isn’t whether to have an industrial policy but whether it meets society’s needs or those of politically powerful industries.
Consider energy. The fossil fuel industry has accumulated “billions of dollars in subsidies, loopholes and special foreign tax credits”, in Biden’s words. He intends to eliminate these and shift to non-carbon energy by strengthening the nation’s electrical grid, creating a new “clean electricity standard” that will force utilities to end carbon emissions by 2035 and providing research support and tax credits for clean energy.
It’s a sensible 180-degree shift of industrial policy.
A proper industrial policy requires that industries receiving public benefits act in the public interest
The old industrial policy for the automobile industry consisted largely of bailouts – of Chrysler in 1979 and General Motors and Chrysler in 2008.
Biden intends to shift away from gas-powered cars entirely and invest $174bn in companies making electric vehicles. He’ll also create 500,000 new charging stations.
This also makes sense. Notwithstanding the success of Tesla, which received $2.44bn in government subsidies before becoming profitable, the switch to electric vehicles still needs pump priming.
Internet service providers have been subsidized by the states and the federal government and federal regulators have allowed them to consolidate into a few giants. But they’ve dragged their feet on upgrading copper networks with fiber, some 30 million Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband, and the US has among the world’s highest prices for internet service.
Biden intends to invest $100bn to extend high-speed broadband coverage. He also threatens to “hold providers accountable” for their sky-high prices – suggesting either price controls or antitrust enforcement.
I hope he follows through. A proper industrial policy requires that industries receiving public benefits act in the public interest.
The pharmaceutical industry exemplifies the old industrial policy at its worst. Big pharma’s basic research has been subsidized through the National Institutes of Health. Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act bankroll much of its production costs. The industry has barred Americans from buying drugs from abroad. Yet Americans pay among the highest drug prices in the world.
Biden intends to invest an additional $30bn to reduce the risk of future pandemics – replenishing the national stockpile of vaccines and therapeutics, accelerating the timeline for drug development and boosting domestic production of pharmaceutical ingredients currently made overseas.
That’s a good start but he must insist on a more basic and long-overdue quid pro quo from big pharma: allow government to use its bargaining power to restrain drug prices.
A case in point: the US government paid in advance for hundreds of millions of doses of multiple Covid-19 vaccines. The appropriate quid pro quo here is to temporarily waive patents so manufacturers around the world can quickly ramp up. Americans can’t be safe until most of the rest of the world is inoculated.
Some of Biden’s emerging industrial policy is coming in response to China. Last week’s annual intelligence report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warns that Beijing threatens American leadership in an array of emerging technologies.
Expect more subsidies for supercomputers, advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence and other technologies linked to national security. These are likely to be embedded in Biden’s whopping $715bn defense budget – larger even than Trump’s last defense budget.
Here again, it’s old industrial policy versus new. The new should focus on cutting-edge breakthroughs and not be frittered away on pointless projects like the F-35 fighter jet. And it should meet human needs rather than add to an overstuffed arsenal.
Biden’s restructuring of the American economy is necessary. America’s old industrial policy was stifling innovation and gouging taxpayers and consumers. The challenges ahead demand a very different economy.
But Biden’s new industrial policy must avoid capture by the industries that dominated the old. He needs to be clear about its aims and the expected response from the private sector, and to reframe the debate so it’s not whether government should “pick winners” but what kind industrial policy will help the US and much of the world win.
- Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US
The top occupations hiring in Colorado, plus a job where “you’ll never not be employed”: Occupations with the most number of job openings tell economists one main thing: Those industries are constantly looking for workers.
Tamara Chuang, Colorado Sun, Apr 17, 2021
If you’re still in job limbo because your former employer shut down, hasn’t reopened or you’re hoping to switch to a more stable career, take this advice from economist Tatiana Bailey: Look for a new career based on occupations with the most openings.
“The top 10 job openings are always the same,” said Bailey, director of the Economic Forum in the College of Business at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. “And that tells me that we’re not really training people for the jobs of today.”
But what it also says, she added, is that those industries are constantly hiring and cannot find enough workers.
Bailey dug into Colorado Springs data collected from Burning Glass Technologies, which tracks 40,000 sources for online job postings daily. She uses that to help inform the Pikes Peak Workforce Center about what training programs and tools should be offered to job seekers.
The top five occupations with openings in Colorado Springs were registered nurses, software developers, sales representatives, retail salespersons and truck drivers. Incomes for half of the top 10 seem like livable wages. https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/5780287/embed#?secret=tVsfLrzOI1
If any of them sound appealing, then you just might have a new future. Those same occupations are among the top 10 statewide. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment provides similar top 10 data based on the state’s job bank, which is incomplete as previously reported, but gives us a sense of openings.
As of April 13, the top 10 jobs advertised in Colorado were:
- Registered nurses, 3,837
- Retail salespersons, 1,579
- Customer service representatives, 1,147
- Computer system engineers/architects, 835
- First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers, 792
- Nursing assistants, 768
- General and operations managers, 755
- First-line supervisors of retail sales workers, 747
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, 723
- Driver/sales workers, 703
(Here’s a link to view the top 100.)
- Registered Nurses, 1,996
- Retail Salespersons, 918
- Customer Service Representatives, 679
- Computer Programmers, 525
- Computer Systems Engineers/Architects, 519
- General and Operations Managers, 465
- Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers, 460
- First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers, 439
- First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation and Serving Workers, 425
- Nursing Assistants, 402
For the Grand Junction area, the top job postings look like this:
- Registered nurses, 119
- Retail salespersons, 44
- Physicians and surgeons, all other, 37
- Nursing assistants, 35
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, 32
- Driver/sales workers, 30
- Customer-service representatives, 30
- First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers, 22
- Occupational therapists, 21
- Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, 18
And in the Pueblo metro area:
- Registered nurses, 204
- Licensed practical and vocational nurses, 38
- Retail salespersons, 36
- Customer-service representatives, 35
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, 34
- Nursing assistants, 30
- First-line supervisors of retail sales workers, 29
- Driver/sales workers, 28
- First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers, 24
- Physical therapists, 22
While it’s interesting to see similarities between the most-posted job ads between markets — half of the top openings are the same on all the lists — it’s also notable to see what’s unique. In Denver, accountants and cooks are unique to the top 10, while Grand Junction really needs doctors and occupational therapists. Pueblo? Supervisors for food prep and retail sales workers.
→ Bailey, the economist, worked with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to make it easier to find the number of openings per occupation via WAM, the Workforce Asset Map.
→ Denver’s Workforce Services is hosting a free “Careers in Health Care” seminar online on both April 21 and April 28 at 1:30 p.m. >> Register
In demand: Accountants
One of the local job boards I included in a roundup recently was Lew’s List, which shares finance and accounting opportunities. It’s run by Lew Visscher, former chief financial officer for Catalyst Repository Systems. He started the list to help other accountants and financial companies hire help or find a new job.
While the industry cut back on posting jobs at the start of the pandemic, finance and accounting job postings “was at best, 50% of normal all the way through the end of the year,” Visscher said.
That’s likely to return to normal since the demand for accountants has been ongoing for the past decade, said Julie Scates, president and founder of J2T Recruiting, a Denver recruitment firm specializing in accounting and finance.
“COVID did not create that bottleneck. That bottleneck was created because it (Certified Public Accountant degree) is now a five-year degree,” she said. “And if you have a mind for accounting your brain works like an engineer or software developer in the tech space, which is a little sexier and pays more. The accounting profession lost its product to competing degrees.”
She said she always tells high school and college students to get a degree in accounting or finance. “You’ll never not be employed,” she said.
And there are entry-level jobs that don’t require that five-year degree.
“Most bookkeepers I know are self-taught,” she said. “They started a small business or a home business or a family business, working in QuickBooks.”
→ If you’re looking to get started in accounting, the American Institute of CPAs has more information on what it takes to get a degree. Another source recommended by Scates is AccountingDegreeToday.com, which has more details on top schools in Colorado.
→ LinkedIn Learning offers several online training startup courses for a variety of careers, including finance. >> Check it out
→ There are some free (and a lot more paid) training programs provided by local workforce centers, Goodwill of Colorado and your local public library. Denver Public Library, for example, offers Udemy courses, while Arapahoe libraries have Treehouse web development programs and more.
Unemployment fraud continues to be rampant. Labor department officials said Friday that fraudsters have so far scammed the unemployment office of $19.4 million, up from the previously reported $6.5 million (thanks to my colleague Thy Vo who subbed in to cover unemployment this week while I was out of town).
As What’s Working reported more than two weeks ago, the state Labor department now requires everyone on unemployment to go through the IDme verification process. The result has led to frustrated users unable to get verified and a decline in the amount of unemployment benefits paid.
This began the week ending April 10, when payments dropped to $110 million from $190 million for the week that ended April 3. The overall number of people in some form of continued unemployment took a hit too, down 17% in a week to 218,000 people by April 10..
What does this mean? A lot of people are stuck in the IDme process.
“The recent implementation of the ID.me identity verification requirement explains the decline in continued weeks for the week ending April 3, compared to the weeks and months prior,” according to the Department of Labor.
CDLE has since added more video tutorials and an FAQ just for IDme. IDme, meanwhile, is still showing waits of five hours or more, according to some folks who’ve shared screenshots. And the verification firm offers its own recommendations to better manage the long wait. (Note: Choosing to come back later to finish the process means you lose your place in line, but you won’t have to repeat steps already taken.)
And please keep in mind that even if your IDme verification is successful, CDLE warns that something else may be holding up your case. Make sure you provide all “fact-finding documents to the department to clear these issues,” said the agency and expect this to take time to make sure your claim isn’t fraudulent.
→ If you’re a victim of unemployment fraud, read our earlier coverage so you know what is happening and what to do about it. >> STORY
Job news odds and ends:
→ U.S. Senate Democrats proposed tweaking unemployment benefits to speed up the application process and provide larger checks for “many low- and middle-income workers to receive up to 75% of the wages they earned when they had stable employment,” according to The Washington Post. Colorado’s unemployment benefit is typically 55% of one’s employed income. >> STORY
→ Colorado has now borrowed more than $1 billion from the federal government to pay benefits to those on unemployment. The money will likely have to be paid back eventually by the state’s employers. Catch up on that with this STORY.
→ Lost your health insurance? My colleague Michael Booth reports that hundreds of thousands of Coloradans eligible for subsidized health care aren’t taking advantage of the offer, even as federal COVID relief has expanded eligibility and the options. Do you qualify? >> STORY
Thanks for reading this week. Share your job stories, hiring notes and unemployment issues with me at at email@example.com. Bonus points: People who share how they got their issue resolved because that is how we can really help one another (thanks in advance)! Hang in there everyone! ~tamara
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
- Unemployment fraudsters have cost Colorado at least $19.37 million
- What’s Working: Gig companies want workers back and are paying bonuses in Colorado
- Thousands of new openings post to Colorado’s official job board each week. Here’s where they come from.
- Coloradans face hours-long delays as unemployment ID verification system is required for everyone receiving benefits
- Colorado’s unemployment fund is nearly $1 billion in debt. Small businesses are worried about paying the tab.
- Colorado’s unemployment system kept inadequate records on who was overpaid or not paid at all, auditor says
Following pandemic, converting office buildings into housing may become new ‘normal’
By Roger K. Lewis, April 3, 2021
Life during the coronavirus has been abnormal for most of us. But even as the pandemic ebbs, a new “normal” inevitably will replace some of the old “normal,” especially in the office building real estate market. Many Americans are buying desks to work at home, suggesting that millions of square feet of previously leased space in existing office buildings may no longer be needed.
This could be a problem-solving opportunity in the future if excess commercial office space can be converted into housing, with some being affordable. But accomplishing conversion feasibly has challenges in design, technology, regulations, and costs and financing.
The pandemic has revealed that, whether by necessity or choice, some people can work productively and collaboratively yet without being in the same space. This possibility was predicted years ago by real estate developer Jay Hellman, who dubbed it “virtual adjacency.”
Internet-based communication technologies enable an individual, sitting at her or his personal computer, to interact with other individuals; host or attend meetings involving scores of people; make or observe visual presentations; and listen to lectures or participate in webinars. American firms and organizations now realize that many of their employees need to be in the office only part of the week, working at “hot desks” shared with other employees on other days.
Reduced demand for leased office space will reduce an office building’s market value, which depends entirely on leasing revenue. For office building owners, equity investors and lenders, this is disastrous, prospectively a path to insolvency and foreclosures.
Especially vulnerable are aging, deteriorating or functionally and technologically obsolete office buildings; buildings in overbuilt areas or neighborhoods with falling real estate values and rising vacancy rates; and buildings far from public transit. Yet often, the existing structural bones, and sometimes the skins and roofs of such buildings, can be saved and repurposed for housing.
Some buildings could even be adapted to a mixed-use conversion approach, with one portion of a building preserved for offices and residential units occupying the remaining portion. But no matter which conversion strategy is pursued, significant hurdles must be overcome.
Design and technical hurdles stem from geometric differences between what works architecturally for an office building vs. an apartment building. Office building floor plates are typically large and deep to provide layout and partitioning flexibility, with sizable dimensions between exterior walls and central circulation cores.
By contrast, multistory apartment buildings are proportioned to enable living/dining rooms and bedrooms to abut window walls. The length of a conventional, rectangular apartment building with units on both sides of a corridor can be whatever the building site allows, even hundreds of feet. But the building width is typically 60 to 65 feet. Kitchens, bathrooms, closets, utility rooms and, for two-level units, interior stairs abut windowless corridor walls.
Because much office building square footage is far from exterior walls, conversion to housing may require modifying the basic building structure. For example, parts of the roof and floor plates on upper levels might be cut open to create interior, skylit, mini-courtyards to bring light into habitable and interior rooms. And unique apartment layouts are often needed to effectively use available floor space.
Additional structural surgery provides vertically aligned floor openings for stairways and fire-protected exits, elevators shafts and chases accommodating plumbing and HVAC ductwork. Also, new roofing, windows, exterior cladding and insulation are usually necessary.
Fortunately, office building floor-to-floor dimensions typically exceed apartment building floor-to-floor dimensions. This is aesthetically and technically beneficial for housing conversion. Increased room heights augment the sense of space and openness while allowing natural light to penetrate farther into the apartment. And the extra dimension enables provision of space between the hung apartment ceiling and floor structure above for sprinkler pipes, electrical conduits, light fixtures and air ducts.
Zoning regulations and building code constraints add another hurdle for office-to-housing conversion. Requirements concerning fire and smoke protection, egress paths of travel, access to natural light and ventilation, and occupancy are written for conventional buildings. Yet building conversions are never conventional, making variances, special exceptions or even regulatory amendments a necessity.
Every aspect of conversion work described above entails great expense, to which must be added the underlying acquisition cost and market value of the basic building structure and land on which it sits. So saving money is not the predominant justification for converting office buildings to housing.
Rather, conversion accomplishes worthy social and environmental goals while providing office building owners the possibility of staying financially solvent.
Thus, the most daunting office-to-housing conversion hurdle is financing to cover the array of costs. Private sector equity and debt financing sources exist to finance market-rate housing units.
But subsidy funds for affordable, below-market-rate units must come from public sector sources: the federal government; state and local governments; and nonprofit housing trusts. This is why subsidy financing for converting office buildings to housing will be the greatest challenge by far.
Roger K. Lewis is a retired practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland at College Park.