The One Word in the Democrats' New Slogan That's Causing Controversy

July 24th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

The Democrats unveiled their answer to calls for a populist agenda last week, releasing a three-point plan called the "Better Deal." But one proposal — to introduce incentives for skills training — has received some pushback from the left.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi

The "Better Skills" section of the Democrat's new plan outlines proposals to expand apprenticeships and "work-based learning programs," offer tax credits to employers to "train and hire new workers," and "create a network of thousands of partnerships between businesses, career technical programs, public schools, and community colleges."

Though the idea might not seem controversial on its face (after all, most Americans want more job training), some feel this part of the Democrats' revised, economic agenda is "insulting" and treats the symptom rather than the disease.

One Twitter exchange between Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) best sums up the debate over skills training that's playing out right now:

However, critics of the "Better Skills" proposals aren't necessarily against the training.

But the notion that it represents a central tenant of the Democrats' plan has struck a chord among some who view it as demeaning to a workforce that's held back by more systemic economic conditions, such as stagnant wages and rising college tuition costs.

Those factors are especially pressing given the fact that the U.S. economy requires increasingly skilled labor. More than half of Americans (54 percent) feel that "they will have to continually update their skills and training in order to succeed in a career," compared to only 12 percent who say "ongoing training will not be important for them," according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.

The desire for skills training skews toward highly educated people, though. And so while creating incentives for skills training could have widespread benefits, the group most likely to reap the rewards of the Democrat's "Better Skills" plan would be those with the means to afford a college education.


Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote that the term is also "a weird and awkward combination of words which implies that the voters who it's directed toward are poorly educated."

That said, the skills section is just one part of the Democrat's plan. The "Better Deal" also takes aim at corporate monopolies, calling for policies that reign in the "economic and political power" of corporations by preventing large mergers and holding bad actors accountable.

"The extensive concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations hurts wages, undermines job growth, and threatens to squeeze out small businesses, suppliers, and new, innovative competitors," the Democrats wrote in an outline of their plan. "It means higher prices and less choice for the things the American people buy every day. Vigorous, free, and fair competition is a pro-business, pro-consumer, pro-worker approach."


Cracking down on exploitative corporate practices that disempower the working class would be a step in the right direction from both perspectives.

Other alternatives to incentivizing skills training, championed by many establishment Democrats as well as DSA, could include strengthening union representation to fight for living wages and other workplace protections and driving down tuition costs to create more equitable opportunities to advance economically, for example.