Guest Op-Ed: Preparing for the Realities of Our New Economy
Over the past few months, amid the return to in-person schooling and the beginning of the fall, you might have made a few of the following observations:
Your grocery bill has gone up, with beef, pork, and eggs being especially expensive;
A gallon of gas costs about $1 more than it did a year ago;
Construction and home improvement projects have been delayed and are much more costly.
One of your favorite longstanding restaurants has closed; or
A friend or family member has struggled to find a good job with good benefits.
If any of these statements apply to you, you are not alone. I notice the price increases whenever I go to the grocery store or go to a restaurant to support local businesses. My family members who work in landscaping and construction have barely managed to break even due to sky-high fuel and lumber prices and the scarcity of workers.
Supply chain issues, subpar wages, and poor policy decisions at the state and federal levels have strained all of us, but they have pushed many of our residents to the financial brink. The number of Massachusetts households facing food insecurity has doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past year and a half, hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents have lost their livelihoods and 23% of Massachusetts restaurants have closed permanently.
Beacon Hill needs to take a more proactive role addressing the problems of our new economy. There is a great deal that state government can do to support residents and small businesses during this consequential time.
First, Beacon Hill must provide further financial assistance to small businesses and job training programs. Too much of the $5.3 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act has not yet been allocated while political insiders drag their feet on making the critical decisions they were elected to make. Rather than sitting on that money, state leaders need to grant a portion of it to small businesses, especially those committed to offering their workers livable wages and benefits. Another portion of the money should go toward infrastructure projects that create good jobs, improve our decaying public transportation, and put Massachusetts on the path to becoming the first state in the country to offer universal, affordable broadband Internet for all residents.
Second, we need to support the creation of good jobs that pay a livable wage, include quality health insurance, and offer paid family and sick leave. Paradoxically, Massachusetts employers cannot find enough workers, and Massachusetts workers cannot find enough good jobs. This phenomenon is occurring because the rising supply costs and lessened in-person shopping is limiting small business growth and deterring the higher wages and benefits necessary to attract good workers. Large companies, like Amazon, are truly killing small businesses.
Third, Beacon Hill must seriously re-evaluate its laws as they apply to our technology industry. In the 1980s, the “Massachusetts Miracle” evaporated as technology companies fled the Commonwealth in part because of poor legislation. It is important to note that 9 of every 10 jobs will soon have a technology component. We must act now to avoid an exodus of companies and workers. We must stop restrictions on our most valuable asset- labor. Our current non-compete laws restrict technological innovation and job creation. Silicon Valley knows this, which is why California does not enforce non-compete agreements. Massachusetts’s enforcement of noncompete agreements is often cited as a key reason why Boston’s technology industry has never grown to the size of Silicon Valley. As we transition our Commonwealth’s economy into the 21st century, let us not repeat last century’s mistakes.
Fourth, we need to professionally evaluate Massachusetts’s unique supply chain issues, which differ from those of other regions. This study should determine which foods and products are most scarce in Massachusetts and how Beacon Hill is managing its relationships with other state officials and port leaders in California, New York, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. As we recently learned with the pandemic, manufacturing more product in the United States, and particularly in Massachusetts, must be encouraged. This needs to be an area of focus for Beacon Hill.
As we move into the 21st Century, our government needs to do more to grow our economy and properly train our work force. Otherwise, we will be left behind. Understanding what that economy will look like is obviously a prerequisite. My unique blend of public and private sector experience ensures that I will understand the complex issues and protect our citizens’ livelihoods.
Anthony D’Ambrosio is a candidate for State Senate.