America faces an uncertain future, with changes to its economy and the kind of jobs it will offer its future workforce that one presidential candidate compared to the disruption caused 200 years ago by the Industrial Revolution.
Marco Rubio told the crowd at Sun City Carolina Lakes on Thursday that the nation in the 21st century will need to adapt to an economic world transformed by the digital age, where the nation’s largest retailer is a website that owns no stores, transportation companies such as Uber move people without owning a single car, and Airbnb can book rooms for travelers without a single hotel room in its name.
Those changes and others are causing disruption to the job market and how many perceive the future of the American Dream.
“It’s deeply troubling that millions believe that dream is no longer possible,” Rubio said. “They’re living paycheck to paycheck, or their job has been outsourced, or they finish school only to find the only job they can get, they could have had without a degree or a student loan.”
The junior U.S. senator from Florida dropped by the Indian Land development this week to present himself to South Carolina primary voters as someone who can address these challenges. While federal programs were designed for the world as it existed decades ago and the leading Democratic hopeful for president was actually in the White House 20 years ago, Rubio offered himself to voters as a fresh face to lead what his campaign signs call “the New American Century.”
At 44, Rubio is among the youngest presidential hopefuls seeking the nation’s highest office (his fellow Republican, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is only two weeks younger). But as a candidate, Rubio has tried to counter his youth and short tenure in the Senate by building a reputation as a policy wonk.
Like most Republicans, Rubio wants to see the Affordable Care Act repealed and replaced with “a system that puts people in charge of their health care instead of the government.” But it’s on immigration that the Cuban-American has done the most to set himself apart, helping to craft a bipartisan reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but was never taken up in the House.
Fixing America’s immigration system will require a strict E-Verify program for workers, strengthened security on the border and vigilant monitoring of visa entries and exits. But Rubio also said the county still needs to fix its legal immigration system, by shifting the criteria for entry away from whether you have relatives already living here to what kind of skills a potential immigrant can contribute to the country.
“That might have worked in the ’50s and ’60s when my parents came here, but not any more,” Rubio said. “Now we need to ask, ‘What can you do?’”
Rubio also called for changes to education policy, saying America needs to strengthen vocational training for middle-class jobs that require some post-high-school education but less than a four-year college degree. Students should also have a better understanding of how graduates of particular colleges perform in the job market so they can understand the financial aspect of taking out their student loans.
“I’m not against four-year schools. Where else would we get college football?” Rubio said, but “there’s not much of a job market for Greek philosophers.”
No Democratic candidate will be able to lecture him about the cost of paying off student loans – which Rubio didn’t do until he published his autobiography – or live paycheck to paycheck, as his immigrant father did for years in the service industry.
“He was a banquet bartender into his 70s so that I and my siblings could be whatever we wanted,” he said.
Don Rufty of Charlotte asked Rubio a question about energy independence, and liked the senator’s answer about how boosting American oil production could also be used as a foreign-policy tool to undermine the sale of oil that has fueled an aggressive Russia.
“I like the idea of using it as means to curtail the influence of places like Russia and the Middle East,” Rufty said, adding that he liked the way the candidate presented himself as much as he did any of his policy statements.
“He doesn’t have all the answers, but he could find them, because he has that kind of disposition,” he said.
Sun City resident Robert Pennachio also was impressed with Rubio, after seeing several GOP presidential contenders come through the area.
“He stands head and shoulders above the rest of them,” Pennachio said. “He’s got the solutions, the youth, the brains, the charm, the wit, the appearance.”
Pennachio compares Rubio to another young senator who managed to turn that combination into a ticket to the White House.
“He’s like John F. Kennedy.”