This week, we heard from President of the United States Joe Biden in the annual State of the Union address. Many topics were covered, from transportation to the Chinese spy balloon. This article could be an A-to-Z list of topics discussed, but instead, I’m going to do the Sparknotes version. First, after greeting the staff and guests, Biden opened with a traditional statement about the progress and resilience of the United States. I agree that the United States is resilient, but I’m sure that Biden and I have different opinions on why the American people are resilient. Throughout his speech, we heard about economic resilience, managing the pandemic and the attack on the Capitol. There was no mention of the resilience needed to protest against police brutality, for reproductive rights or for the protection of voters’ rights. The American people are certainly resilient, but not just for economic reasons. Since Biden spent a large portion of his speech on the economic future of the country, this seems like a good place to start.
The United States has reached a 50-year low in unemployment. According to McKinsey & Company, “There are 1.9 open positions for every unemployed American, and employers are responding by raising wages and offering alternative working arrangements to attract and retain workers.” That’s fantastic news, so why are Americans struggling to find work? Part of the issue is geographic mismatch. As companies go back to expecting employees to work in person, prospective employees in rural and suburban areas find themselves with limited job opportunities. The cost of a move may be more than a new job is worth after taking into consideration the reasons people choose to live in non-urban communities. Urbanites aren’t exempt from the struggles either. Per McKinsey’s data, city-dwellers are the most likely to express concern about job stability. Regardless of location, only 33 percent of employees are willing to move for work, so hopefully, companies are learning that productive, remote positions are much better than empty, in-person positions.
A mismatch of skills and education is also impacting Americans seeking new employment. Especially in the youngest employee demographics, there are over-qualified candidates applying for entry-level positions. While everyone has to pay their dues, we have reached a point as a society where people can’t afford to retire, and they are holding up the line of succession. I’m not going to spend 4 plus years in secondary education to work a job that, 20 years ago, would have been an internship. Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States without raising the minimum wage to a living wage, or placing protections in place for unions, isn’t going to be enough to keep unemployment down or to increase economic progress. It’s a half measure. All of this is to say, unemployment is low—now, let’s make employment meaningful again.
I’d also like to talk about the infrastructure law being implemented. The United States government is pouring billions of dollars into repairing highways, bridges, railroads, ports, tunnels and airports. These projects are incredibly important because the infrastructure of this country has been failing for decades. I just hope we don’t stop at repairing and improving already existing infrastructure. As we add Internet in rural areas, let’s also add access to water and sewage sanitation. Let’s add renewable energy to support the production of electric car charging stations. As we improve railways, we should be planning new hyperspeed systems to connect Americans in new, affordable ways. When cities are repairing public transportation, these improvements should include finding ways to reduce the need for personal vehicles and increasing the walkability of communities. These changes are the tip of the iceberg—let’s dive deep into real improvement.
These criticisms aren’t personal or political. They come from a place of deep-seated hope for a nation that I believe can improve. There were, of course, things I truly loved about the State of the Union. I loved how Biden responded to the dissenting crowd members during his segment on Social Security. His sharp, unscripted response shows that, for his age, he is still very capable of thinking on his feet. Hopefully, he makes a great advisor to future leaders some day, rather than continuing to run for office. Biden’s push for corporate tax increases and price caps on life-saving medication like insulin are also welcome calls to action. Finally, as a veteran, I will always appreciate the support my community receives from Biden. Regardless of my feelings about the military, turbulent as they may be, the PACT Act is going to save the lives of my fellow service members. Access to better mental health means less families missing loved ones. As the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs improves, the next step should be extending its type of care into healthcare for all. I look forward to seeing how the next year plays out politically and how it compares the hopeful tone of our sitting President.