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Democratic hopeful Tim Ryan watched his steel town die and says fear of technology won't save the Rust Belt. Amazon and eBay might

Key Points
  • Presidential candidate Tim Ryan says fear of big tech companies like Amazon won't help America lead.
  • The Democratic hopeful also believes students need to be educated on trade skills and says the idea every American child should attend college was one of the country's "great mistakes."

Many good policy ideas miss out on the daily cable news spin cycle — but it is not for lack of trying. Democratic hopeful Tim Ryan will face off against other candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in Tuesday night's first of two debates this week, but all eyes — and most of the headlines — will likely be on the face-off between two high-profile progressive candidates: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

On Tuesday, the Ohio congressman released a plan to revitalize the Rust Belt, stating, "We must invest in new industries, especially the technology sector, which is building the foundation for a new era of American industrial supremacy."

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, films a message on the House steps of the Capitol. He says a focus on fear of technology, like AI, rather the the technology opportunity, will set America back in the 21st century.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

CNBC.com recently interviewed Ryan as part of its series on presidential candidates to gain insight on their vision and how it can impact the economic outlook for 37% of the 2020 electorate: millennials and Gen Z. Set to be the first American generations to be worse off than their parents, facing the threat of climate change and struggling with how to pay for college, money matters matter to young voters in this election.

This series is dedicated to giving every single candidate a platform to share their economic vision for America with the voters — and find out whether they prefer Hulu or Netflix or if a hot dog is a sandwich.

Tim Ryan Vital Stats

Age: 46

Experience: Congressman, Ohio (2003– ); Ohio Senate (2001–2002)

Education: Bowling Green State (BA); University of New Hampshire (JD)

Family: Andrea (wife), Brady (son), Mason (stepson), Bella (stepdaughter)

CNBC: Morning Consult says Amazon is Gen Z's fourth most loved brand. However, politicians from President Donald Trump to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have attacked the brand. Is there a disconnect between leaders and young voters surrounding tech companies?

Ryan: I think there's a way to thread the needle. I do think that, you know, when you factor in what we learned about Russia in the last week with the Senate Intelligence report saying that Russia has had a very aggressive campaign in all 50 states to influence our elections, that this is a very complicated topic that I don't think can be settled in one conversation.

Technology plays a huge role, especially for Gen Z, who grew up not knowing any different. My kids — Mason is 16 and Bella is 15 — they've grown up with this technology, and I think we've got to come together. We just can't be divided, because we're not going to solve all these problems divided. When we sit down, it's got to be with big tech, government and everyone else.

It's scary to think about driverless cars and driverless trucks and checking yourself out at a local retail store. But the alternative of ignoring the technology, ignoring AI, ignoring machine learning and ignoring additive manufacturing is to our detriment.

Amazon brings a great deal of convenience, but at the same time it has squeezed out a lot of small retail. Amazon just opened a distribution center in Akron, actually in my district. It's going to be a $100 million investment. The jobs are going to start off at $15 an hour, get up to $18 an hour. That's not anywhere close to where we want it to be, but it's not minimum wage. There are some benefits here with the growth, but we've got to manage that with the disruption that it has on the economy and job market and small business.

For example, eBay has a program called Retail Revival, and they came into Akron and they're working with retailers to plug them into their global market so that whether you're selling comic books or baseball cards in Warren, Ohio, eBay comes in and teaches you how to access the global market. They're seeing significant increase in sales because eBay has helped the local business sell their product to the world. There are all of these opportunities with tech to amplify business, and we've got to figure that out.

I come from old steel country, Youngstown, Ohio. In the 1970s, when the steel mills totally collapsed and went belly up, the technology in the steel mills were pre–World War I technology. The steel industry put its head in the sand; America put its head in the sand. We got our clocks cleaned because we didn't embrace new technology.

What I'm trying to say to the American people is, Look, it's scary to think about driverless cars and driverless trucks and checking yourself out at a local retail store. But the alternative of ignoring the technology, ignoring AI, ignoring machine learning and ignoring additive manufacturing is to our detriment. We have to embrace technology and figure out how to make it work for us and dominate these industries. And I do think there's a disconnect with leaders who aren't taking that approach. We're talking more about fear and not talking about how we win in the future.

CNBC: Americans have $1.5 trillion in outstanding college debt. Is a higher education still the best option for young Americans trying to enter the workforce?

Ryan: It depends. Not for everybody. There are plenty of jobs that are available today and will continue to be available that don't require a college education. I think perpetuating that myth that a college, you know, is an absolute necessity for everybody, was one of the great mistakes we've made in the United States in the last 20 or 30 years. I think we should help people renegotiate their college loan debt down so that they have more money in their pocket and try to make college more affordable to the extent we can, with containing costs and helping people pay for it.

But also, in my education program, I stress vocational education in our schools so that people in high school can get on a pathway to get into the trades or get some kind of a skill that may only take an additional year or two of education after high school and make sure that these jobs get filled. We have thousands and thousands of jobs today where the skill set does not match the job opening. These are jobs that pay well, where you can make $60,000–$70,000 a year coming right out of high school. We want to make sure we streamline those programs to get people in and make sure there's access, especially for people of color, and make sure access to job training is available to everybody. Getting into the high schools and getting kids on a track, working with their counselors and parents to fill those jobs.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, seen in the basement of Rayburn Building on Friday morning, July 12, 2019. He says the best profession for Gen Z Americans to go into will be health and nutrition.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

CNBC: According to the fourth National Climate Assessment Report, the sector of our economy that will be most negatively impacted by climate change is the health-care sector, with weather-related health conditions predicted to increase in severity and unanticipated health threats likely to emerge. What changes are needed to prepare our health-care system to deal with the impending climate crisis?

Ryan: Well, first and foremost, we want to make sure everybody has coverage. That's got to be the first step. However, the conversation that we really need to have is how do we start saving money within the health-care system. I don't say we do that by cutting benefits or cutting coverage; about two-thirds of our health-care costs today are from chronic diseases that are largely preventable. A little over $3 trillion a year is spent on type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure — all of these issues that we could literally reverse.

My focus is going to be on coverage, how do we flip this system, which currently is a disease-care system. It just waits until we get sick and then the pharmaceutical companies make money to help health [insurance] companies make money. We've got to rebuild the incentives to stay healthy.

If you're a business person and you're looking at your financials you say, "Where can we save money?" It's $3 trillion a year on getting the country healthy and by freeing up that money, by bringing down those expenditures, we will have more money to deal with all of the climate issues. We can decarbonize the economy to make sure people have health coverage, we can rebuild infrastructure, and we can convert our farmland over to regenerative agriculture. We're going to need money for all of this stuff, and we've got to figure out how to save it, where the big chunk of money is, and that includes making sure that everybody has the coverage that they need.

CNBC: A 2018 TD Ameritrade study showed that LGBTQ millenials made, on average, $59,400 a year, while their straight counterparts earned $67,800. Further, only 29% of LGBTQ respondents reported feeling economically secure, as opposed to 41% of straight respondents. As president, how will you combat LGBTQ economic inequality?

Ryan: We've got to pass the Equality Act and make sure that there's no discrimination in the workplace for anybody in the LGBTQ community, making sure that the laws are enforced and making sure that the Department of Labor has the resources that it needs to enforce these laws. You set the tone as President of the United States to make sure that everybody knows that intolerance and discrimination has no place in the United States. That's a cultural issue as well, so you have the force of law behind you, but also use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make sure we move from this very discriminatory, race-baiting president that we have today who's hell bent on dividing the whole damn country to saying, Look, everyone is welcome here. Everybody matters. Everybody's a child of God, and they should all be protected by the law, but also by the president's words and actions.

CNBC: Gallup says that 4 in 10 Americans embrace some form of socialism. Do you think this is a realistic vision for the future of the American economy?

Ryan: No. Socialism is not the future. Socialism has never been proved to work anywhere in the world. I think we need to have a capitalistic system that actually works. The one we have now is broken with this concentration of wealth, concentration of opportunity, and you know, it's contributing to some of the big issues that we need to solve in the United States around climate change and taking care of our workers. The system is completely broken, and we need to fix it.

We do need government intervention where the market fails, like we see with the Medicare program. Like we see with the Medicaid program to provide health insurance for seniors or poor people, where there's no market for someone to provide insurance. We must have a new and better government. We're caught in this left-right divide right now. And it's a trap. You know, should we go further to the left or further to the right? I'm advocating, we go for new and better and we don't reform these old, broken systems. We transform them, and we build some new systems that are adequate to the challenges of the 21st century. Socialism is not going to do that. Government-run centralized planning is not going to do that. But we do need government to lead on a lot of these issues like we did during the New Deal.

I think there's a great opportunity for us if the government is progressive, if the government is innovative and creative. We can lead the way again around all of these issues. I think most people feel that the government does have some role to play when the economy is changing so much, because the government is the only entity that can protect workers and families in such a tumultuous time. So I do believe that government has a role to play that should not be viewed or in any way connected to socialism.

Rapid Fire

Netflix or Hulu: Netflix

Apple Music or Spotify: I'm trying to get to Spotify.

Who's on your playlist? Dave Matthews. Bruce Springsteen. Cardi B and I'm going a little old school. I got some '70s music, too, especially in the last few days.

What was your first job? First real job was a steel mill, midnight turn of the steel mills in Youngstown.

What was your college major? Political science

Favorite TV show: "Game of Thrones," except for the last season!

Best financial advice you ever got from your parents? Start putting money away as soon as you start working, especially if there's matching funds for any retirement. Even if it's $20, just start the process every month to put money away.

If you were a Gen Z individual entering the workforce, what sector would you enter? I would probably go into health and nutrition.

Should marijuana be legalized nationally? Yes. Yes, for sure. For social justice reasons more than anything else.

Is a hot dog a sandwich? No, it stands alone.

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