Improving economic mobility with education; limiting with regulation

Improving educational achievement is fundamental to Opportunity Washington’s roadmap for expanding Washington’s culture of opportunity. The evidence in support of our priorities continues to accumulate.

Marc Tucker, head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, recently reviewed successful international education innovations. His conclusion:  

…the only way a country can provide broadly shared prosperity is to create an economy in which the whole workforce is adding a great deal of value to the things it makes and the services it provides, and the only way that will happen is if everyone, at every level of the workforce, is deeply educated and highly trained.  So they decided, in effect, to compete on the quality, not the price, of their labor.  The commitment to education and training is an ineluctable consequence of the commitment to broadly shared prosperity.

Read Tucker’s blog post for vivid, concrete examples of what works.

Similarly, Isabel V. Sawhill The Brookings Institution considers recent data on income inequality and offers a suggestion that echoes recommendations Opportunity Washington has made.

We should invest in evidence-based programs, starting before birth and extending through high school and the college years. If we provided an effective home visiting program, high quality pre-k, and comprehensive school reforms in elementary and high school, it would make a difference in children’s lives, according to rigorous experimental evidence.

These are dynamic, positive steps that can be taken now to build ladders of opportunity for young people in our state. There are also, unfortunately, policies in place or under consideration that will inhibit opportunity.

The Washington Research Council recently wrote about the unintended consequences of labor policy, noting that policies adopted to help workers often have the opposite effect. In the Wall Street Journal, Jason L. Riley, with the Manhattan Institute, provides more evidence of how steep increases in the minimum wage put young workers at a disadvantage.

The issue remains relevant here. We recently wrote about a $15 minimum wage initiative in Tacoma that appeared headed to the fall ballot. The initial batch of petitions contained an unusually high number of invalid signatures from people not registered to vote. 

Jared Meyer writes in Forbes that overregulation of the economy also imposes a disproportionate hardship on young and low-income workers. He cites a perhaps unanticipated source.

As Michael Mandel and Diana Carew of the Progressive Policy Institute argue, steadily-increasing regulations impose “an unintended but significant cost to businesses and to economic growth.”

Arguing that regulatory reform would spur economic activity – activity that he notes would help ease the federal debt burden that bill be passed on to future generations – Meyer says,

While the benefits of regulatory reform are widespread, the costs of burdensome regulations disproportionately affect those with low incomes. This means that most young people are bearing the weight of regulations, along with all other Americans who are living within limited means. Federal regulations cost six to eight times more as a share of earnings for low-income households compared with what high-income households pay.

Rather than imposing additional regulations, including higher minimum wages, legislators should consider policies that have been demonstrated to increase mobility and expand opportunity. It all begins with education.