OTTUMWA — Andrew Yang called for a fundamental rethinking of American education during a campaign event in Ottumwa on Saturday.
The event was the first visit for Yang, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. He called college an “oversold” route for students, one that too often results in debt and starves employers of skilled workers in industry.
“What we need to do is invest in training and apprenticeships at the high school level,” Yang said. “There are many employers who are looking for skilled tradespeople and can’t find them.”
Yang said the push for college also hurts the people who try to attend but are not good fits for an academic environment. About 41 percent of college students, he said, fail to complete their degrees within six years. Some of that is because of finances. But Yang blamed much of it on the fact some students should not have been in college in the first place.
By working to “elevate the trades,” Yang said the problems faced by both the students and their potential employers can be reduced.
Yang also took issue with the official unemployment rate, echoing, he noted, President Donald Trump when he was a candidate. Since taking office Trump has reversed his criticisms of the way unemployment is calculated, pointing to a low unemployment rate as a sign of his administration’s success.
“He was right the first time,” Yang said. “The unemployment rate does not count you if you drop out and stop looking for work. If you quit looking for work, you actually improve the unemployment rate.”
The misleading calculation leads to situations in which people are told the economy is roaring, but don’t see the improvements in their own situations or in their communities. “You,” Yang said, “are right. The numbers are wrong.”
Yang’s visit took a different approach than many candidates use in campaigns. Rather than begin with a stump speech, this was a moderated question-and-answer session. And the first question didn’t even go to Yang, but to his wife, Evelyn.
Evelyn Yang said the freedom dividend payment her husband has campaigned on would help people whose work is not recognized by traditional means. That includes homemakers and caretakers.
“All of your work has value, and the freedom dividend finally attributes some value to that work,” she said. “And most people would be spending that money in your local economies.”
Andrew Yang returned to the dividend later. He said markets don’t value things they don’t see as productive. He cautioned against listening to their assessment.
“If we listen to the market for too long it’s going to destroy us. It’s going to take us off a cliff,” he said. “And we’re going to be left looking around and wondering what happened to our communities.”