SKIP THE SIZZLE For decades we have been told the key to prosperity is education. Public education in Florida was completely retooled to be centered on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) to guarantee employers had more educated workers.
College loans were made more readily available for people to attend college because we know that a college graduate makes more money than their counterparts.
However, education hasn’t turned out to be a silver bullet. Blue collar jobs for those FCAT-passing high school graduates have disappeared as more manufacturing was shipped overseas, housing construction plummeted and road construction funds were used to balance the state budget.
For our college graduates, there is even less opportunity locally. Saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, they find themselves as some of the best educated waiters, waitresses and bartenders in the country, outside of New York and California.
In the mid-nineties, owning a home was seen as the key. The Clinton administration made it easier for anyone to buy a home. Banks churned out mortgage loans. Those loans were sold, repackaged into investment funds and resold to retirees wanting high rates of return with supposedly little risk.
Then the real estate market crashed. Property values fell sharply. Balloon payments came due and few could pay them or refinance. The investment funds became toxic investments with very little value. People lost their homes. Retirees lost their life savings.
No, the key to improving one’s prosperity is a job, one that pays a fair wage, has decent benefits and is in a safe work environment. A man or woman with such a job has self-worth, especially when it meets their skill level and their interests.
The mantra that we get from politicians is “we need to create jobs.” The idea is we must give tax breaks and incentives to corporations for them to expand and create jobs. Unfortunately for all the ballyhoo over job creation through reallocation of federal, state and local budgets to corporations, the unemployment rates have remained high.
We need to shift the focus to people, not corporations. We need to put people to work. High-tech jobs are the sizzle, blue-collar jobs are how we raise the standard of living in Escambia County.
Commissioner Gene Valentino has long pushed a regional transportation authority that could fund road construction across the panhandle. We need to revisit his proposal because those construction jobs are good ones. Offshore Inland has been rumored to be interested in expanding its repair and maintenance of oil rigs at the Port of Pensacola. That needs to be explored.
The next economic development announcement should be about how many locals we’ve put back to work, not how many jobs we’ve “created.”