Two decades after the first Milken Institute Global Conference, far too many of the world’s people still suffer from oppression, poverty, disease and terrorism. Yet stepping back and looking across 20-year trends, there are encouraging signs.
Developing nations have experienced broad progress: about 7.5 million people rise above extreme poverty every month.
Child and maternal mortality, hunger, rates of HIV/AIDS and malaria are all down substantially. Millions of people have greater access to primary education, health care (especially vaccines), electricity and safe drinking water. In most of the developed world, gains are also impressive. Inexpensive, reliable global communication has become routine; more students attend college; many infectious childhood diseases have been conquered; and cancer diagnoses are no longer the death sentences that used to terrify patients.
Phenomenal technology advances over the past 20 years mean that most of us carry a device in our pockets with greater capability than the most powerful computer on earth in the 1990s. A new digital information-technology infrastructure is driving major revolutions in human capital, business and finance. Unfortunately, however, millions of workers – as well as people who have lost hope of working – are suffering from the impact of job losses related to technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.
Tragically, the death rate for middle-aged white Americans is rising, part of the reason the U.S. has fallen farther behind other advanced nations in life expectancy. Many segments of the population struggle to deal with problems of homelessness, disabilities, mental distress, pain and opioid addiction. The greatest impact is on families headed by a worker with no more than a high school education. The inflation-adjusted income of this group fell 19 percent between 1999 and 2014. They find little solace in the fact that technology historically creates more jobs and better jobs than it destroys. Without skills retraining, many will lose hope and may sink into isolation and despair.
Our challenge is to match workers at risk of being left behind with the abundant job opportunities driven by new technologies. That’s the significance of this year’s Global Conference theme: “Building Meaningful Lives.” Everyone deserves a chance for a life of dignity and purpose. The future of the American dream and democracy as we know it depends on meeting this challenge successfully.