During a recent interview with a big Los Angeles-area newspaper, a reporter asked me, “Is America now in permanent decline?”
My answer was, “No.” Our country is not in permanent decline. But I’m concerned that our leadership is.
Actually, our leadership in Washington is failing miserably, and there’s little evidence they’re turning it around. Unemployment remains high and is basically stuck there, and GDP is growing at a pathetic 1% — so the country is failing on two of the most important economic metrics. The number of new business startups is alarmingly low, and the pace of startups is the one metric that foretells the rise or fall of America.
Here’s the problem: The very survival of America depends on job growth and GDP. But what are the White House, Congress, and all of the media and talking heads focusing on? Guns, immigration reform, and foreign affairs. Bluntly, none of these issues have much to do with the core drivers or root causes of America’s potential decline.
Worse, Washington and the media are totally out of touch with the public: When Gallup asked U.S. citizens to name the country’s most important problem, the top-of-mind answers were overwhelmingly either the economy in general or unemployment and jobs — 42% between the two responses. Just a paltry 4% named guns as the top problem, and another 4% said immigration. You read that right. And foreign affairs, namely concerns about North Korea, foreign aid, and “focus overseas” came in at 6% total.
What’s more, the vast majority of Americans want Congress and the president to prioritize jobs and the economy.
It’s no wonder. Nearly 20% of U.S. workers say it is “very likely” or “fairly likely” they will lose their job or be laid off in the next year, more than said so prior to the 2008 economic downturn. And more than two in five U.S. workers say that if they were to lose their job, they could go no more than one month before experiencing significant financial hardship.
Interestingly, the third-most important problem was “dissatisfaction with government” (16%). There’s a message in that finding. Our leaders are spending their time on the wrong things. When leaders have their priorities and basic assumptions wrong about what needs to be fixed, the more they lead, the worse things get.
Our founder, Dr. George Gallup, a man with a great sense of mission about democracy, understood this. He said, “If democracy is about the will of the people — then somebody should go find out what that will is.” While he didn’t say, “…and leaders should vote that will in Congress,” he did believe that leaders should be in touch with what 300 million American citizens want and need.
I’m worried right now. On a recent plane trip, I had time to read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post in more depth than usual. This was an eye-opening experience. Turning page after page of all three great papers, I could barely find an article that addressed the current will of the people: jobs and the economy. There was plenty to read about immigration, even though as many Mexicans are now crossing the border back to home as are coming into the U.S. Plenty of articles on guns, even though the homicide rate in America is at a staggering 50-year low. And, of course, much on North Korea and Syria, neither of which has to do with America’s most pressing problems right now.
Washington politicians and media: We have a problem. The country’s citizens are on one page and you’re on another. You all had better get back fast to jobs, jobs, jobs, because if you don’t, the answer to the question, “Is America now in permanent decline?” will become a deadly “Yes.”
(VIA. Jim Clifton – Linkedin – CEO at Gallup)