America's Job One: How a Deliberative Public Talks about the Economy

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In the last four decades, the US has weathered recessions and enjoyed periods of growth and improvements in living standards. In good times and bad, “jobs and the economy” typically ranks at or near the top of the country’s most important issues. There is little disagreement about the goals: growth and prosperity, good jobs, fair wages, and an equal shot for everyone. But there are sharp divisions on how to achieve these goals. Leaders in government and the private sector—at national, state, and local levels—must choose where to invest money and time, what comes first when one cannot do everything, and which policies best reflect the values and priorities of the American people.

Against this backdrop, the network of the National Issues Forums (NIF) has convened deliberative forums on jobs and the economy nine times between 1982 and 2020. Each round of forums took place in different locations over the course of a year, with 2020 forums conducted online. In addition, the network has hosted forums on issues related to the economy, including immigration, the federal budget, health care, and higher education. Forum participants have come from all walks of life and have gathered in libraries, schools, senior centers, and all manner of community gathering places to exchange views.

Looked at together, these forums, held over four decades, offer an unparalleled window into the participants’ thinking on jobs and prosperity, economic growth and opportunity, and ways the country and local communities can adapt to economic and technological change.2 Equally important, the forum deliberations suggest practical ways leaders can help nonexperts better understand the country’s economic challenges and consider the advantages and risks of different paths.

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Published Date: 
Thursday, July 1, 2021
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