The Wall Street Journal recently published a telling article about the world’s shrinking economy called “Population’s Flagging Growth Undermines Global Economy.” There are three big takeaways:
1. There will be a worldwide labor shortage within the next 50 years.
2. Life expectancy across all populations in the world, including for lower-income individuals, is rising at a much more rapid rate than births.
3. Fertility rates for all countries and across all incomes are drastically declining.
In essence, two trends will converge and negatively affect future growth: 1) There will be fewer workers to produce and buy products and services coupled with 2) more older people who will have limited production capacity coupled with limited spending power. It’s hard to imagine that Black Friday 2035 will look anything like it does today.
This brings us to the headline of this article: U.S. growth will be dependent on multicultural Millennials and Gen Z. They are the workers the U.S. will need to grow. Hispanic Millennials (individuals ages 18 - 34) are on average six years younger than their non-Hispanic white cohorts and have higher fertility rates. Gen Zs (individuals ages 4 - 18) are the largest cohort the U.S. has seen since the Baby Boomers and also the most ethnically diverse. Among both generations, Hispanic, African-American, Asian and mixed-race populations make up 40% and almost 50% of Millennials and Gen Z, respectively.
The growth of the U.S. will depend heavily on how we invest in these two generational cohorts. Just like what the GI Bill did for the parents of the Baby Boomers to produce these children and a stable, growing economy, we need to ask how are we going to invest in these groups so that they are educated and prepared for this new global economy to turn the tide. I believe that the future of our work force and our ability to “make things” again in the U.S. will be entirely dependent on career laddering – going to back to school in small stints to continue to advance with the advent of new technologies – and trade careers, which will teach an upcoming workforce how to make things again.
While career colleges have come under federal scrutiny regarding student debt vs. income payout in the short term, this conversation needs to go beyond the short term and scrutinize the education system as a whole. Are high school programs and four-year degrees aligning with the magnitude of the future spending trends and soft economy for durable goods in the next 20 to 50 years? With the right foresight for a well-trained and technically savvy workforce, this gloomy horizon could well turn into solid U.S. growth and a burgeoning middle class again.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Jan. 6, 2016, in Engage:Hispanics.