CEDAR RAPIDS — As America experiences the greatest economic transformation in its history, it’s up to Iowa to make sure no one is left behind.
America is in its fourth industrial revolution as “technology is advancing to the point where fewer and fewer of us will have the same level of economic value,” according to Andrew Yang.
The former technology entrepreneur, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is warning that automation and artificial intelligence will displace millions of American workers — from retail clerks to truck drivers — and disrupt not only the economy but society as a whole.
“So we have to get our heads up and evolve in the way we think about ourselves and our own value,” Yang, 44, told students and community members Wednesday at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids.
Fortunately, he said, Iowans hold the power to make that happen.
“You all are very powerful individuals,” Yang said, explaining that because of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, each Iowan has the power of 1,000 California voters. He estimated there were 150 people in the audience. “That’s like four football stadiums of Californians. That’s the power in this room to shape the future of this country. You all don’t know it ... but you truly do have the future of the country in your hands.”
At the top of the agenda, at least for many of the students who listened to Yang, is climate change, if for no other reason than they will have to live with its consequences longer than their parents and grandparents.
Kennedy senior Joy Curry hopes it’s not a generational issue, “but I hear a lot of young people talking about it more than older people.”
Classmate Tasha Gilkson, who organized Yang’s climate change conversation with state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, agreed.
“It’s high up there” on students’ concerns, she said, “especially as it will impact us later in our lives.”
Curry also wanted to learn more about Yang’s universal basic income. He’s proposed paying every working-age adult $1,000 a month to deal with coming economic disruption. His flagship plan is “more trickle-up than top-down,” Yang said.
The $12,000 or $24,000 a year in universal basic income is intended to help Americans embrace the change needed to deal with climate change.
Millions of families live paycheck to paycheck, and their willingness and ability to deal with climate change is limited by their financial insecurity, Yang said. People are concerned with the cost of dealing with climate change and believe it will eliminate jobs.
“We have to let people know this is actually good for the economy,” he said. “It’s pro-growth. It will create many, many new jobs.”
Later Wednesday, Yang met with union members in a closed meeting.
On Saturday, he and his wife, Evelyn, the parents of an autistic son, will be in Iowa City for a conversation about autism at 1 p.m. at Sidekick Coffee, 1310½ Melrose Ave.
At 5 p.m., he will have a rally at South East Junior High, 2501 Bradford Dr. RSVP for his events at yang2020.com.
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