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Blog Post

American Dreamers


September 13, 2023

In January, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) launched the American Dream Initiative (ADI), a new, multifaceted policy and practice effort to build on and extend the nation’s legacy of liberty, opportunity, and economic progress for generations to come. Through ADI, AEI scholars are investing time and energy in policy analysis and development to expand access to the American dream for individuals, families and communities.

Education, skills, and work are central to ADI’s core objective of promoting economic opportunity and mobility for all. Over the past several months, AEI’s Vocation, Career and Work (VCW) group has been visiting communities across the country to promote what we believe to be the most effective policy and practice solutions for improving training, skills and employment outcomes, especially for those most at risk of not achieving their full potential.

Last March, VCW and AEI’s Academic Programs office convened the Appalachian Policy Summit, inviting students and professors for a weekend of briefings and conversations addressing key regional concerns. Senior researchers and teachers briefed the audience on the history of the region’s social and economic development as well as strategies for leveraging key educational and natural resource assets to promote new economic opportunities. Experts in addiction from AEI and Stanford talked about the causes of the regional opioid abuse crisis and offered concrete policy solutions. We were also joined by Professor David Staley from The Ohio State University, who discussed how institutions of higher education can serve as hubs of economic development while fulfilling their traditional roles of education and training.

In July, AEI VCW launched a project in Columbus, Ohio to support the central Ohio region in meeting persistent labor shortages. We’ve helped convene community and business leaders to explore key challenges and potential solutions including the opportunities and challenges posed by the introduction of generative artificial intelligence technologies, the need to expand workforce participation among men, and the importance of supporting businesses in creating more inclusive training and work environments. We are planning future convenings to help us apply recent findings from VCW’s bipartisan Workforce Futures Initiative to the Columbus region.

More recently, I attended the MSHorizon’s workforce development conference in Jackson, Mississippi sponsored by Accelerate Mississippi, a cabinet-level office helping to integrate education and training with economic and workforce development. The conference brought together hundreds of educators, university leaders, and workforce development specialists to discuss how we can expand, improve, and align education and training with high-growth and high-wage industries. AEI hosted a dinner with senior state and private-sector leaders to encourage greater attention to the “soft” or noncognitive skills deficits that form barriers to education, employment, and on-the-job advancement. Future AEI engagements will focus on supporting senior Mississippi policy leaders in accessing and applying AEI research products to improve state education and workforce programs to expand opportunities for Mississippi’s workers.

In August, the Sagamore Institute and AEI co-hosted a day-long conference in Indianapolis on how to promote economic dynamism, training, and workforce development across the state. AEI’s former head of domestic policy, Ryan Streeter, discussed his research on supporting economic dynamism across the country. Other AEI presentations focused on how people, technology, and skills are reshaping workforce development, sharing the latest research on how workforce demographics, accelerating technological change, and underlying social trends are affecting both the supply and demand for labor. Other attendees and presenters included high school and post-secondary educators from Indiana, economic development practitioners, and philanthropic investors eager to keep the American dream alive in the heartland. Planning for future conversations emphasizing how to embed and expand high-performance sector-based training programs in Indiana’s workforce development system.

Finally, visiting AEI senior fellow Mason Bishop and I addressed the recent annual gathering of the State Policy Network in Chicago. This presentation focused on Bishop’s recent reports on the “Utah Model” for integrating and streamlining workforce development and human services programs to create integrated pathways toward self-sufficiency. Leaders from several state-based think tanks have approached AEI for expertise in publicizing Bishop’s research and encouraging wider adoption of Utah’s approach to workforce development and economic opportunity across the country.

This is just the beginning. Over the next several months, the AEI American Dream Initiative will host or take part in similar conversations and convenings in California’s Central Valley, New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, and elsewhere as we continue getting our research off AEI’s website and into the hands of state and local leaders who help make the American dream a reality.