We’re already making progress on this front. From 1999 to 2012, the share of students graduating high school increased from 71 percent to 81 percent. College graduation rates have also jumped significantly, and in 2012, 31 percent of Americans held a bachelor’s degree, up from 25 percent in 1999. With the Internet broadening higher education’s reach nationwide through online courses and universities, the skills of America’s future workers should continue to advance.
It’s also possible to see how technology might create new jobs as it destroys others — a phenomenon that has always happened, even if it’s difficult to realize in real time. For example: A skilled woodworker in North Carolina may have a limited number of local customers for artisanal furniture, but the Web site Etsy allows him to sell tables and desks across the country. An engineer in Des Moines might not find many venture capitalists in Iowa to back a promising idea, but the Web site Kickstarter enables her to fundraise from thousands of people. An unemployed construction worker in a big city could use the smartphone app from Uber or Lyft to make money picking up passengers around town. And advances in telecommuting might allow a working parent to stay at home and on the job, defraying child-care costs.
While most of the job-creating innovation would have to happen in the private sector, it is impossible to ignore the government’s role. Some worry that Washington’s ability to direct resources toward high-return parts of the economy — such as research and development or education — will be stifled by growing debt, fueled by waves of retiring baby boomers. The national debt today stands at 74 percent of the size of the economy. It is expected to grow to about 100 percent within 25 years. These numbers aren’t encouraging, but they’re a dramatic improvement from where we were just a few years ago, when forecasters expected the ratio to be closer to 200 percent. The debt has become more manageable because lawmakers and the White House have raised taxes and cut spending.