*Appeared in Forbes on August 3, 2015
As the United States moves past the Great Recession, job growth, underemployment and the labor participation rate continue to hold our country back. How have we overcome these obstacles in the past? Innovation. And it continues to be our best bet for putting Americans back to work.
Companies have always been factories of new ideas
The creation of new technologies and bold concepts were behind the likes of McDonald’s in the 1950s, The Home Depot in the 1970s and Apple in the 1980s. They all became the creators of new jobs, both for entry-level employment and for advancement. This generation’s version of fast-growing job creators are firms like Uber and AirBnB. Whether it’s the aura of “Shark Tank” or having a friend who builds a successful app for a living, Millennials have grown up with a new respect for entrepreneurship. Their enthusiasm for starting their own business or going out on their own should be nourished to embrace the new economy, not put off by the huffing and puffing of politicians and bureaucrats.
Instead of encouraging these innovators, city, state and federal governments enact stifling regulations that restrict economic growth and limit employment opportunities. Disturbingly, these regulations are often packaged in pro-labor rhetoric, which could not be further from reality.
Technology allows more people to access economic opportunity
A defining feature of many of the companies to spring from Silicon Valley—and across the country—is their use of technology to expand access to economic opportunity. The so-called sharing economy has spurred growth by decentralizing and streamlining the process to secure full- or part-time employment. By the end of 2014, Uber had more than 164,000 drivers on its payroll, who earned $6.14 more per hour on average than taxi drivers.
Despite providing hundreds of thousands of people with a source of income well above minimum wage, the disruptive nature of its business model has made Uber and its rivals prime targets of regulations created at the behest of special interest groups fearful of being left on the sidelines. (It’s impossible to ignore the money trail that leads from taxi fleet combines or hotel labor unions bent on stopping Airbnb.)
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the powerbrokers of the taxi industry tried to crush Uber’s expansion. The company rallied enthusiastic customers and grateful drivers in nothing short of a full-throated campaign to temporarily fend off the politicians. Why was that battle necessary?
Innovation, not stagnation, will drive this country forward
As we continue to try and put people back to work, we must realize who is actively working to create jobs and who is simply working to protect their interests. Innovation, not stagnation, will drive this country forward. It’s time for every level of government to support the newest wave of job creators—even if it hurts their own political careers or those who contribute to them.
Bernie Marcus is the 86-year-old co-founder of The Home Depot and founder of the Job Creators Network. Justin Dent, a 22-year-old student at the University of Maryland, is co-founder of YoungAmerica.org and its millennial campaign, GenFKD.