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Conference addresses job opportunity, income inequality


The chance of a college student finding a job after graduation correlates to the health of the economy – an economy that can be improved by informed students, panelists at a conference on world affairs held at USF St. Pete said. 

The second annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, held this weekend, featured more than a dozen panels on various international and national topics, including the U.S. and world economy.

Douglas McElhaney, adviser to the USF St. Pete honors program and former U.S. diplomat to Bosnia, said he brought the event to USF St. Pete to involve the Tampa area with world affairs.

“People need to have a foundation for the things that they read,” he said. “People who have worked inside, such as diplomats or military, bring a certain view, and I think the academics complement that view.”

The panelists discussed income inequality and job opportunity for upcoming generations of job seekers, two issues that were central to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last month. 

George Hamilton, chairman of the National Payment Corporation who was present at the conference, said there are a number of available jobs, but a shortage of individuals trained with the necessary skills. 

“We as a society are not doing a decent job preparing our children for the jobs of today, let alone tomorrow,” he said. “We need to be looking at what we’re doing in colleges to assure kids are on a reasonable path.”

Graduating from college without secure job prospects is a reality for many students, Hamilton said.

“It will eventually turn around, but only if our country spends a lot of time thinking how we can get people the right skills,” he said. “Without the right skills, those jobs are going to move.” 

Hands-on training in the latest technologies is the best way for students to be in demand after graduating college, said Todd Shank, an associate professor of finance at USF St. Pete.

Hamilton said only education is affective in assuring long-term job security, especially when so many American jobs are continually outsourced. 

Shank said outsourcing is partially the fault of American consumers. 

“We have become addicted to the low prices,” he said. “The low prices have been enjoyed because of outsourcing and having the production done in other places.”    

The disproportionate U.S. income inequality and shrinking middle class is partly due to this reduced demand for basic and intermediate skills, he said. 

Kevin McGuire, the former director of senior assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources, said economic data evidences U.S. income inequality as “egregious”.

“This is not what this country was about when I was young,” he said. “This problem will determine the future of this country.”

Robert Duetsch, a senior advisor to the State Department on Iraq and Afghanistan who attended the conference, said U.S. income inequality is not a new development, but the gap has been steadily widening over the last 30 years. 

“I never know if it’s because I’m older, or if America has changed, but I actually believed if you worked hard, then you could do anything,” he said. “I’m not convinced today even if a kid is smart, he’ll really have all those same opportunities if he doesn’t rub shoulders with the elite.”

McGuire said a mentality of entitlement among the wealthy might oppress social mobility, referencing venture capitalist Tom Perkins’ proposal to give more votes to those who pay more taxes. 

“Conservatives think the poor are undeserving and are the ones who feel falsely entitled,” he said.

Hamilton said income inequality is a good political issue to rally voters to the polls. 

“There is absolutely nothing like class warfare to have fun,” he said. “But I’m not sure if, economically, it’s as clear of a line.

Resentment of the rich may be satisfying, he said, but only adjusting to changing demands in the job market will solve the problem of social mobility.

The U.S. must be active in promoting job opportunity, he said. An economic recovery will not inherently reduce inequality. 

The world and U.S. economy is in recovery, Shank said, but it is the wealthy who disproportionally benefit from a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP), an annual monetary measurement of productivity that is often used to measure a country’s standard of living.  

Spreadsheets cannot measure happiness and compassion, he said. One should look outside the office to judge a society’s true value. 

“GDP is somewhat misleading,” he said. “It measures the volume of stuff, but not necessarily our quality of life. Perhaps we should be focusing on measures other than economic growth to determine if we are successful.”