How to End Gerrymandering

Every state should have an independent redistricting commission, says Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper.

Many observers say Illinois’ 4th Congressional District resembles a pair of ragged earmuffs. Intended to capture Chicago’s Latino population, the district carves out two roughly symmetrical disks in the heart of the city, connected by a narrow stretch of I-294.

The district is often cited as a blatant example of “gerrymandering” – but it’s legal. A federal court rejected a challenge to the district map in 2011. And districts that look like Illinois’ 4th Congressional District are increasingly common. With the help of proprietary programs such as Maptitude and access to household-level data, states can now draw districts to their liking with uncanny precision.

As one result, the number of competitive Congressional districts, according to the Cook Political Report, dropped from 164 in 1998 to just 90 in 2013.

“It’s gotten so bad that you could say politicians elect their voters, not the other way around,” says Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN).

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

The Death of “Reinventing Government”

New research says “dismantlers” now have the upper hand.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore launched modern history’s longest-running project to fix the federal government.

Posing with two forklifts loaded with federal documents, Gore vowed to streamline an “old-fashioned, outdated government” with a ruthless focus on efficiency.  By the project’s end in 2000, “reinventing government” had eliminated 640,000 pages of internal regulations, cut 426,200 federal jobs and saved $136 billion. Public trust in government rose from 25 percent in 1993 to 42 percent in 2000, the highest it had been in decades.

Today, however, trust in government has sunk back to historic lows. And as the 2016 elections approach, “government reform” is a likely plank in many candidates’ platforms.

But if it’s time for reinventing government again – the 1990s’ focus on “inefficiency” might be too pallid a prescription for government’s current woes. Americans no longer believe inefficiency and waste are the government’s biggest problems, according to a recent study by Brookings Institution scholar Paul Light. Instead, more Americans now disagree with government’s fundamental priorities. It’s not so much how government is doing its job, but what it’s doing in the first place – a problem no amount of streamlining can fix.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

French Fries and Free Trade Agreements

Booming U.S. potato exports are an example of how free trade agreements can open markets for U.S. products – and fuel cultural trends abroad.

South Korean consumers have fallen hard for potatoes.

In 2013, a group of teenagers in South Korea made international news when they were booted from a McDonald’s after buying $250 in French fries. The teens had hoped to host a “potato party” – a fad then sweeping South Korea and Japan.

Now the latest Korean food craze is “honey butter” potato chips. Introduced in August 2014 by the Haetae Confectionery & Food Co., the salty-sweet snacks are a national obsession, endorsed by celebrities and K-Pop stars, and sometimes in such scant supply that chip scalpers have created their own market. Vice recently reported that two bags of the coveted chips sold on eBay for $103.50.

Among the chief beneficiaries of the current Korean passion for potatoes are U.S. potato growers and processors, who’ve seen their exports explode in recent years. According to the U.S. Potato Board, U.S. potato exports hit a record high of $1.76 billion in 2014, shipping out 1,643,618 metric tons of potatoes. South Korea is now among the top global destinations for U.S. potatoes, after Japan, Canada and Mexico. The Potato Board reported that exports to Korea grew by 87,000 metric tons – or 13 percent – from 2013 to 2014 alone.

Many variables account for why some food trends take off and others don’t. But U.S. exporters credit one factor in particular for boosting the wide availability of potatoes in the Korean market: free trade.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

The Challenge of Latino Retirement Security

Only 6 percent of Latino workers in California have employer-sponsored retirement savings.

America’s fastest-growing demographic group might also be the least ready for retirement.

New research by the National Council of La Raza finds that in California – home to more than a third of the nation’s Latino population – just 29 percent of Latinos have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan and only 21 percent of those who have access participate. Taken together, this means only 6 percent of the state’s Latino workers have employer-sponsored retirement savings at all.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

“The Little Agency That Could” – OPIC’s Outsized Role in Global Development

This often-overlooked agency leads U.S. development efforts overseas – while making a profit for taxpayers.

In 2011, the Dominican Republic launched its first-ever wind farm, with the eventual capacity to offset more than 62,500 tons of carbon emissions a year.

In sub-Saharan Africa, “micro-irrigation” kits allow small farmers to grow onions, tomatoes and other cash crops throughout the dry season, boosting production and incomes.

And in rural India, 300,000 people a day have access to clean drinking water from 500 new water-treatment facilities built in villages throughout Punjab.

These initiatives are among the thousands of projects financed over the years by the federal Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Though often overlooked, this agency has long been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to boost the economies and living standards of developing countries while also supporting U.S. foreign policy aims.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Why America Needs an Arctic Ambassador

New legislation would help America protect important interests in the Arctic.

New government data finds that the amount of Arctic sea ice this year is at its lowest level ever – another possible indicator of climate change and rising sea levels around the world.

The accelerating melt also poses another risk: a potential global battle – that America may be ill-equipped to win – for the vast natural resources once buried under the now-disappearing Arctic ice.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

The Federal Government’s Worsening Millennial Talent Gap

Outdated hiring practices are to blame, says Partnership for Public Service President Max Stier.

Polls show that, compared to other generations, millennials believe in an active federal government.

Most millennials favor a “bigger government providing more services,” finds the Pew Research Center, while another survey by Deloitte finds that millennials overwhelmingly support government’s potential to solve such pressing problems as climate change and income inequality.

Yet only 7 percent of current federal workers are under age 30 – the lowest share in almost a decade. Why are so few millennials working in federal government?

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

In Kentucky, Angel Investor Tax Credits Woo Small Business Investors

The state’s expanded credit is now among the more generous incentives nationwide.

Eric Ostertag is the kind of entrepreneur states love.

A physician with a doctorate in molecular biology, Ostertag has launched three ventures: Transposagen, a genetic engineering company; Vindico Pharmaceuticals, which specializes in nanotechnology; and Hera Testing Laboratories, Inc., another biotechnology firm.

The companies began in Philadelphia, but all three are now based in Lexington, Kentucky. The state offered Ostertag a matching grant for high-tech companies that win federal Small Business Innovation Research awards. “I moved my companies because of the incentives,” Ostertag said.

Now the state is offering Ostertag’s investors an incentive too: a generous new tax credit for “angel” investors who invest in Kentucky-based small businesses.

Continued at Republic 3.0…

Not your grandfather’s factories

It’s not easy for manufacturing to attract the younger, skilled workers that it needs. We need to focus on both the educational pipeline and public perceptions.

Via Governing

For much of the past 30 years, the American public’s view of manufacturing has been unrelentingly grim: shuttered factories, laid-off workers and the steady disappearance of “Made in America” products from consumers’ shelves.

But U.S. manufacturing is showing strong signs of rebirth. Since the end of 2010, U.S. manufacturers have added more than 730,000 jobs, and industry analysts predict that the sector could see as many as three million new job openings over the next 10 years.

Now, however, American manufacturers are dealing with another kind of bad news: Even as industry’s prospects have recovered, its image has not. Americans still think of factory jobs as dirty, dangerous and offering little job security.

As a result, millions of young Americans are potentially snubbing a promising career path in an industry poised for a renaissance. Absent a dramatic and rapid makeover of not only public perceptions but also the educational pipeline that manufacturers depend on, the sector’s looming worker shortage is severe enough to short-circuit both its own rebound and its contributions to overall growth.

A new report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute finds that American manufacturers could face a deficit of as many as 2 million workers over the next decade, fueled in part by industry expansion but also by the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers.

These jobs are both highly skilled and well paid. “Nearly all of the jobs that were unskilled or semi-skilled have either been automated out of existence or moved offshore in search of cheaper labor,” says the Manufacturing Institute’s Gardner Carrick. Today’s factory jobs, he says, are focused on “operating, maintaining or programming the machines that are doing a lot of the actual manual labor and hard work that used to be done by human beings.”

This means the vast majority of manufacturing jobs today require some sort of post-secondary degree or technical credential. It’s an investment that pays off: In 2013, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the average manufacturing worker earned $77,506 in total pay and benefits. Yet surveys by the Manufacturing Institute find that only one-third of parents would encourage their children to work in manufacturing and that a majority of teens have no interest in it as a career.

The onus of solving manufacturing’s recruitment problems lies, of course, principally with industry. To that end, manufacturers have recently launched an annual effort — Manufacturing Day — to show young Americans first-hand what today’s manufacturing jobs are like. In 2014, the initiative involved more than 400,000 participants at events across the country, including an appearance by President Obama at an Indiana steel facility’s open house.

But even if interest in manufacturing careers rekindles among students, they’ll still need the right skills and training to land a job. That’s why state and local policy-makers should be working to rebuild the educational infrastructure that withered when manufacturing collapsed.

The best way to do this is to revive, modernize and encourage career and technical education (CTE) at both the high-school and post-secondary level, which a number of states have already begun to re-embrace. Kansas, for example, now pays tuition for high school students enrolled in college-level career and technical education classes. The state also offers high schools a variety of incentives to encourage CTE, including paying the transportation costs of high-schoolers attending classes at a college or career and technical institute, subsidizing the cost of credential assessment, and even offering financial rewards to students graduating with an industry-recognized credential.

Another promising initiative is Tennessee’s “Drive to 55,” a statewide effort to increase the share of residents with post-secondary credentials to 55 percent from the current level of 32 percent. One aspect of the program, Tennessee Promise, gained national prominence as the model for President Obama’s free community college proposal. Other states have embraced apprenticeship as a way to draw millennials and other young workers to manufacturing.

Unlike old-fashioned “vo-tech” programs that may have served as an outlet for students deemed unready or unsuited for college, the best of today’s CTE programs combine post-secondary education with industry-recognized credentialing. Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, for example, is one of a growing number of schools that specialize in providing students with both academic and industry-recognized credentials.

For many millennials still struggling to find their way post-recession, manufacturing’s nascent revival offers a potentially ideal path for rebuilding their economic fortunes. And for manufacturers, the talents of the millennial generation and beyond are critical to sustaining its rebirth. But to broker this marriage between manufacturing and millennials, the role of government will be vital.


Are Apprenticeships the Answer for Struggling Millennials?

German-style apprenticeships are gaining momentum as a way to help America’s young workers.

In America, the rite of passage that comes with turning 16 is to get a drivers’ license. In Germany, it’s to become an apprentice.

Since the 1970s, nearly two out of three young Germans opt at age 16 to enter the country’s apprenticeship system, which covers roughly 350 different occupations from mechanics to hairdressers, electricians to office workers.

Continued at Republic 3.0 and UPS Longitudes…