Despite all the hand-wringing in the media — which thrives on conflict and disasters — there are many good signs for the U.S. in 2018 that bode well for the country, if we’ll just keep our eyes on the future.
Let’s start with the economy. The stock market was heading toward 26,000 this week, with unemployment heading below 4 percent. Along with increased dividends for shareholders and investments in new plants and equipment, corporations are using some of the tax savings they’ll see as a result of the tax reform bill to give wage increases as well as bonuses to their employees. When Walmart raises its average pay $2 an hour, to $11, it means thousands of additional dollars per year in the pockets of each of its 1.5 million American workers.
Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, as evidenced by the jump of 4 percent in holiday retail sales. Americans have been buying homes and cars at a solid pace. Big manufacturers like Fiat-Chrysler are moving production back to the U.S. in response to bipartisan pressure on unfair trade practices. The world economy continues to recover from the last recession.
On the international front, a coalition including the U.S. and Russia (yes, Russia) has all but destroyed ISIS and its caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Iran is swept up not in anti-U.S. fervor but in demonstrations against its own oppressive regime. The two Koreas are talking, not fighting, and will be competing together in the upcoming Olympics in South Korea, encouraged by U.S. military and diplomatic resolve, international sanctions, and even some timely pressure from China.
So where is all the trouble for the U.S. that the pundits and naysayers like to dwell on? Maybe it’s not there at all. Here at home, we’ve just got to get down to business and continue to grow our economy with some common-sense initiatives. The biggest boost could come from an infrastructure program favored by both President Trump and a bipartisan coalition in Congress. By combining a portion of the revenue repatriated under lower U.S. corporate tax rates with some targeted public-private investments, we can finally begin to rebuild the country’s decrepit roads and bridges, leaking water and sewer systems and outdated airports. That means more good-paying jobs for American workers.
Though there are challenges ahead, none are insurmountable. We need to improve our education system to prepare students for jobs in the real world. In the U.S., hundreds of thousands of good-paying positions in trades and manufacturing are currently unfilled. Machine operators, plumbers and electricians are all in short supply, yet our schools continue to churn out graduates who are unprepared for these and other good jobs. We need to look to countries like Germany, which actively support training programs for practical skills that prepare people for meaningful employment opportunities. And our colleges need to rein in their outrageous expense, stop loading up graduates with insurmountable debt, and focus on preparing them to make a decent living and not just pay back sky-high student loans.
Even on the most contentious of issues, immigration, there’s room for a reasonable national compromise. Nobody wants to throw out the hundreds of thousands of young people who have lived in America all their lives and become productive citizens. But we do need to strengthen our borders and reform our immigration system. A compromise is within reach in Washington that would strengthen weak spots on our southern border, deploy more high-tech tools to detect and deter illegal entry, and hire more border patrol guards, in exchange for creating a pathway to U.S. citizenship for those already here. This would allow those living here illegally to come out of the shadows, pay their fair share of taxes and help meet the job demands of a growing economy.
Here in New York — especially in high-tax areas like Long Island — we will face some headwinds in 2018. The elimination of federal deductions for state income and local property taxes could be a real drag on home sales and construction. But as is the case with other challenges, learning to live within our means here is something we can do if our leaders just put their minds and hearts to it.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.