Opinion

Felix Salmon

Can America improve its bad jobs?

By Felix Salmon
July 7, 2010

The problem of falling wages for people without a high-school diploma is well presented by Richard Florida, in an op-ed headlined “America needs to make its bad jobs better”:

The problem is that on average, service workers earn only half of what factory workers make – and only a third of what professional, technical and knowledge workers are paid. The key is to upgrade these jobs and turn them into adequate replacements for the higher-paying blue-collar jobs that have been destroyed.

I’m less impressed with Florida’s proposed solutions, such as they are.

He first points to a handful of companies (Whole Foods, Zappos) which pay more than average for hourly workers, although they don’t pay anything like the sort of money that blue-collar factory workers can command. But it’s simply a statistical certainty that some companies will pay high wages and be successful, just as others (like Wal-Mart or most hotels) will pay low wages and be successful, and others still will fail no matter what they pay. Demanding that the entire service sector should gravitate to one particular quadrant is, I think, unhelpful and unrealistic.

Florida also reckons we can apply some smart technology here:

Service jobs are the last frontier of inefficiency, providing abundant low-hanging fruit for the innovation and productivity improvements that can undergird higher wages.

Florida wants a service-sector equivalent to the kind of technical assistance that the government has long provided in manufacturing and agriculture. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s harder to implement in the service sector, because employers tend to be smaller and more heterogeneous, and because technical assistance aimed at a broad range of service-sector employers risks becoming a series of bland management mantras rather than anything specific and actionable.

What’s more, productivity improvements don’t necessarily result in higher wages for the less-skilled: they’re just as likely to result in greater returns to capital, as owners extract more profits from the business, or else to result in the jobs going to better-educated workers instead.

So while it’s undeniable that America needs to make its bad jobs better, it’s also, I fear, something which is too difficult to succeed at — certainly for any government bureaucracy. If it’s going to happen at all, it will happen from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. And so far there’s zero evidence that’s happening.

Comments
24 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

There is something we could do. Restore workers’ freedom to form unions.

There’s a reason Whole Foods pays fairly well for a retail job: because grocery stores are one of the few sectors of the service/retail economy where workers have a relatively strong union, especially in the larger metro areas where Whole Foods’ customers are.

Whole Foods pays higher to provide a disincentive for its workers to join other grocery workers in the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The problem is that corporations have relentless weakened workers’ freedom to form unions. (Read about how hard Whole Foods CEO John Mackey fought to stop his employees in Madison, Wisconsin from organizing a union and you get an idea of how much pressure workers come under if they want to join together to negotiate about their jobs.)

Manufacturing jobs weren’t always high-paying jobs either in the US or in other industrialized nations. Workers made them better through bottom up organizing.

Everyone knows how hard corporate America fought to block the Employee Free Choice Act, but at some the Democrats are going to have to decide whether they want to let workers in the new service economy join together to make jobs better.

Posted by Harrington | Report as abusive
 

The simple answer to this is allowing service sector employees to organize and negotiate for better benefits and higher wages. It really isnt the riddle of the sphinx, and no we dont need government interference. Countries all over the world function very well exactly in this manner.

The United States is too beholden to powerful corporate interests who, in the name of higher profits and lower prices, are destroying the middle class.

Posted by corcoran310 | Report as abusive
 

The best way to improve bad jobs is to reduce the number of workers chasing bad jobs. By reducing immigration. I can think of a few dozen people in the park outside my office who would love to work as landscapers or construction workers. And the homeless/unemployed population in that park is increasing at an alarming rate. You used to be able to get a park bench at lunch . . . no longer.

Posted by billyjoerob | Report as abusive
 

Hmmm, what Corcoran and Harrington said.

You could also simply do these four things:

1. Raise the minimum wage to $10.00/hour.
2. Establish a national health care plan, so that the employee and employer do not have to pay for basic health care for employees, except through taxes.
3. Stop messing with Social Security, so a very basic retirement with dignity is assured for those who work every day for 45 years.
4. Invest heavily in education, including making sure that all qualified high school grads are able to complete post-secondary education, so that all employees are more productive.

These things aren’t hard or complicated. They just require a basic respect for all working citizens and some basic standards for what it means to be a member of our society. Just like Europe.

Of course, it might also take 42% marginal rates. Cue the apocalypse music…..

Posted by Dollared | Report as abusive
 

Dollared, we already have marginal tax rates well above 42% (at least on the middle class). Add up 25% income tax, 15% self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare), 5% state income tax, and 5% withdrawal-of-benefit on the child tax credit. That is admittedly a pretty specific situation, but I suspect most households with above-median income face effective marginal tax rates over 40% on their income. That doesn’t even include sales taxes.

Health care is pushing 20% of our GDP, of which 3/4 of that is currently privately funded. There is no way to nationalize health care without dramatically increasing tax rates on most/all Americans.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

I agree that Unions can be the answer, but look how happy businesses were to screw the working class and take labour elsewhere rather then negotiate fair wages.

If your Government would invest more in clean energy jobs, create incentives for engineering schools and businesses that show promise, etc. there would be countless jobs for the future that do not entail going to war.

Make a ‘let the best man win strategy’ for the future. Grants for start ups of known benefit for clean energy and alternate fuels. This could be in the form of increased grants for research for the school or individual prizes. Bush made a speech about being addicted to oil as an excuse for his inept policies and support for oil. That was a death knell for change.

The USA seems to be far behind on solar and wind energy. Too bad your president was delayed in his environmental and energy bill. They could be one and the same if done right.

Check out this amazing fellow… an Air Canada Flight Attendant …not an engineer… who built his own totally solar powered car that is making record distance runs. This guy has guts, a vision and a dream.

http://www.xof1.com/

I can see the day when we replace out roof tiles with attractive and fairly inexpensive solar tiles, drive cars using alternate fuels and use only water, wind and the sun for energy. Now THAT would be embracing change.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

The solution to the jobs problem is so easy, it is trivial. A nice serious devaluation would do it. Quantitative easing by $10B instead of the $2B would be a good start.

China and much of Asia in fact have been competitively devaluing for many years now. They don’t have unemployment problems.

On the downside, your ability to buy foreign goods, from Chinese goods to oil, goes way down in such a scenario.

But this is the big discussion to have, considering how Asia is basically gutting our manufacturing sector. Andy Grove points out, and it seems true, that you can’t have a healthy economy without manufacturing.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-01  /how-to-make-an-american-job-before-it- s-too-late-andy-grove.html

Paul Krugman is for devaluation, which makes me want to be against it because he is a staunch leftist, but we are both pro-America and how can we stand aside as our economy is gutted?

The dollar *will invariably* weaken with respect to asian currencies in time because of large trade gaps. This is as sure as physics. The sooner it happens, the less likely it is that there will be cataclysm when it does. The sooner American export can start rebuilding, the sooner America becomes economically stable again.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive
 

Oops, I went off on a tangent there. The service industry jobs change very little. They are shift work, often dirty work, labourous and thankless. They will always be minimum wage jobs, so only a higher minimum wage will make them more attractive.

Service jobs are considered subservient and menial and those cannot be made attractive, except to immigrants and the very poor who appreciate that having a job and being able to feed your family are the goal. hmmm, that just might be the new American dream.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

I think a lot of comments miss a point: somebody will have to pay for higher ‘service’ wages.
1. Say agricultural sector, will very likely remove labor for machines (like they start to do in China right now) means fewer jobs. Which would not have been a problem if there were other jobs, but there are not. So higher structural unemployment.
2. At the end of the day these people are doing work which if you look at a worldwide basis is still heavily overpayed. Also in the US these kind of jobs will be more and more outsourced and only remain if the job cannot be moved.
3. Paying these people without a rise in productivity higher wages means higher prices, you can see that in Europe, where often with a lower standard og living prices are higher.
Higher prices means less sales of the end product, with all its consequences. Or when charged to businesses that they will try to pass it on to their customers.
4. These solutions lead imho generally to a much higher unemployment in that segment of the labor market and there are no new jobs there. See the richer countries in Europe, where there are much less jobs in this sector. Donot look only to unemployment rates often they are somewhere else eg like in Holland with a laborforce of 9 or so million they have roughly 1 million disabled (another way to solve the unemployment problem).
5. In this respect it is probably wise that the US starts to realize that even these low incomes are not really competitive and that the face of labor has changed and will change even more. If it doesnot want to end up with lots of undereducated unemployed or wages on which you can really not live, some policychances are necessary. Like better education, second chance education and job-training, create proper public transport and cheap housing (so costs of living for the low incomes can go down), limiting under-educated immigration, etc etc..

Posted by Rikh | Report as abusive
 

Agreed with Rikh, education is the key.

We already pay far more for unskilled labor than our overseas competition. This makes us less competitive on the global market. The only answer is developing greater valuable skills. Anything else is merely a redistribution of what will ultimately be a shrinking pie. (See the European example.)

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

Recently I read that the US produces more steel than it did in the 1970s, but with fewer than half as many workers. Many high-paying factory jobs disappeared because of improved efficiencies (which require more highly trained blue collar workers). Both efficiencies (and yes, outsourcing) happened because the employees became too expensive relative to what they were producing given how the process was structured. So we changed the process.

The era of huge manufacturing plants employing tens of thousands of workers isn’t coming back, and I’m not sure we want it to. We as a society can decide that fast food workers should make a career wage, but we will likely end up with far fewer of those jobs, because we will make them more efficient. And that may not be a bad thing, but we would also have to structure society to handle higher structural unemployment.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive
 

Rikh, am I in in a time warp? Nafta has already achieved all of the steps in any area possible. Chinese labour is already doing the American manufacturing and factory work a machine cannot. The solution for the ‘overpaid’in North America was already achieved by introducing NAFTA and outsourcing.

The very few jobs that CANNOT be outsourced are in the service industry. No one can clean a hotel toilet or harvest corn from China or that would be gone too. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to pay an employee 5$ a day to work 12 hour days?

TFF, I am confused. How is higher education key in the service industry. There are not enough jobs to go round. How are you going to train for better and greater skills, pray tell, to what end? To whom will they have value in a shrinking economy? I really think you should elaborate what jobs, what skills and what education?

If you mean that the dishwasher should also be trained to wait tables and cook, or the maid who cleans toilets should also be able to be the desk clerk … there is not an education curve. Where ever possible in a small business that is already being done and they are paid minimum wage. In larger businesses the jobs are more ‘specialized’ because they have to be more co ordinated and supervised.

Most of these are jobs that may always be there because machines just can’t do them. Someone still has to make the sandwiches to put in the vending machines and place the dishes on the racks. Until we all decide we can subsist on energy drinks and nutrition drinks, that is.

And curmudgeon, MadDonalds’s would love to hear how to make their business more efficient. The owners would gladly not pay those upstart kids minimum wage while they rake in the dough. Machines to flip burgers and be at the till? Why not. Machines are our future, certainly not kids, right?

Reading a few comments takes me back to just before NAFTA. (Americans were willing to sacrifice jobs to be able to have freer access to Canada’s natural resources and Mexico’s cheap labour) What America might have to change is their need for a President to be good looking, because frankly, Ross Perot was right. He had some grey cells between those big ears.

Society is going to restructure itself, Curmudgeon, but Scenes from Wall-E come to mind after I read the newer comments, rather then my lovely visions I spoke about in my last post.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

hsvkitty, unskilled service-sector jobs in the US already pay far more than unskilled service-sector jobs in China. As you say, these jobs can’t be outsourced and thus must compete in the labor market with jobs requiring more education. Educate the workforce and you attract more jobs utilizing those skills (while reducing the supply of unskilled labor). If you simultaneously limit immigration, then service-sector wages will rise.

This is essentially the principle of “trickle-down” economics. The “new wealth” won’t be shared equally, but it is the only answer. Redistributing the existing wealth by increasing the minimum wage helps to some extent — but it also makes our businesses less competitive in the global market. That would make a lot more sense if we weren’t already exporting millions of jobs a year.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

A friend and I had this discussion recently and here’s what we arrived at:

Governments should engage in Manhattan-Project level efforts on the big problems of our time. A trillion dollars a year even, 10% of GDP, even! Alternative energy, Alzheimer’s, education, longevity, physics (which has gone almost nowhere in 50 years) and so on. This can be directed at both public projects and grants to private entities. There could be gigantic awards for achieving major milestones, awards in the billions of dollars.

This does not need to be a glum time. This should be the time of greatest optimism and excitement in our history. The present ‘crisis’ is a crisis of success. We are so productive that we can meet all our needs with people left over to spare.

Keynes was part right: government can create demand. But people have common sense that Keynes lacked. You can’t just do anything. If all you do is rob Peter to pay Paul, that is plainly unfair and probably economically destructive to boot, since Peter was probably a better steward of wealth than Paul. It is already fomenting a tax rebellion.

Public spending can work, but it should be directed to things that everyone can feel excited about, especially the ones who are paying for it. There is no doubt that the excitement of the Space Program helped those enduring the extraordinary marginal tax rates of the time.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive
 

Sorry TFF, but the unskilled service sector jobs can’t be made more productive by education and giving them useless skills. Unless you are wishing to make the jobs skilled entirely to make immigration obsolete. I think if you were in the service industry you would find many businesses would not agree. And the trickle down theory works great if you are on the upside of the trickle. it doesn’t work that way in reality.

And it makes me cringe when comparisons are made to China work force. I wasn’t comparing at all! They are literally paid 5 dollars a day for a good factory job. The government sanctions what is akin to slave labour and poor standards… a bed in said factories in exchange for labour, children kidnapped and sold to farms, accepting bribes, corrupt knock off warehouses, few or no safety standards, almost non existent quality control or assurances, threats on their lives and families if they try to form unions, lead and toxic waste in children toys, recycling toxic ewaste illegally, etcetera, etcetera. I don’t think anyone should compare North American work forces to those in China.

Thank you Dan Hess for expounding in your last post on what I was trying to express. The rewards in billions of dollars is excessive,though and would be more likely abused, and higher rewards often mean less productivity. The biggest untapped energy is the people. We are incredible working machines if we are matched to work that is productive and satisfying.

Being China will rebel on devaluing the dollar, and devaluation can lead to further devaluation with any crisis, economic or not, adding jobs with value can make a strong dollar and add growth.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

hsvkitty, who said anything about making unskilled labor more productive through education?!? That’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one!

Coincidentally, this article just popped up. Maybe those workers who PRESENTLY hold unskilled jobs are capable of learning actual valuable skills? And performing jobs that are currently being shipped overseas?

http://money.cnn.com/2010/07/08/smallbus iness/rural_onshoring/index.htm

Reality, which you seem to deny, is that unskilled labor is worth very little in today’s world. There is a far greater supply of unskilled labor than there is a demand for unskilled labor.

You can’t simultaneously increase the wages for unskilled labor and the demand for unskilled labor, you have to choose one goal or the other. That’s REALITY.

But further reality? They aren’t stupid, merely unskilled. Give them meaningful training programs that lead to SKILLED jobs and they can suddenly earn a livable wage. That’s education.

You can then restrict immigration (if you want to drive up wages for unskilled jobs) or open our borders to offer opportunity to more people.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

The prevailing epidemic of bad jobs (formerly known as careers) American workers are having to get used to can be directly attributed to protracted periods of really awful American management, for which there can be no tolerable excuse and, in light of which, truly substantial sacrifices from those responsible may be reasonably expected if peace and social justice are to be restored. Nothing short of this will do.

There can simply be no sustainable sense of common identity, no lasting satisfaction nor extenuated civil acquiescence within any consumer economy that allows its consumer classes to suffer and literally fall by the wayside in the course of such a predictable systemic collapse as we are now witnessing. When the collapse comes about from sheer lack of consumption, and when such lack has been rendered as diligently and systematically unattainable as is happening in today’s USA, the irony is complete.

The optimist in Dan Hess may revisit (as one ought) Voltaire, Rabelais and ‘Die Grundrisse’ for evidence of human solutions-oriented ingenuity over time. Acceptable solutions to the present catastrophic social imbalance are however sadly unlikely to be forthcoming from dalliance in anachronistic romance or nostalgia alone, due to the rather obvious fact that the Western economic classes of today are decidedly not all in this together. There’s no “we” here. There’s no “we” on the moon. The “we” is gone.

Western workers’ concerns diverge publicly ever further from the interests of the mandarins at the top, and rightly so, yet the American mandarins see no ships. Organization of labor would be a legitimate response but, for the labor union of tomorrow to make much appreciable difference it must outpace the century-old refinement of the American magnate class’s capacity to infiltrate and widely discredit traditional labor unions.

The Chinese realize this to the bare minimum extent that they at least keep their working classes reasonably sure about having a roof over their head, rice in their stomach and a picture postcard of an iPhone on the wall of their hovel, between treadmill sessions. Western economic führers seem disinclined to make even that much of a concession when it comes time to divvy up the pie on these shores.

Which is why the sun’s likely to go on setting here for some time to come, or ignominiously and prematurely burn out for which much thanks, etc. No, not “our” sun, silly – we don’t have one – the suns of byatches on Wall Street.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive
 

Returning to the article…

“The problem is that on average, service workers earn only half of what factory workers make – and only a third of what professional, technical and knowledge workers are paid. The key is to upgrade these jobs and turn them into adequate replacements for the higher-paying blue-collar jobs that have been destroyed.”

In my opinion, it makes more sense to replace those blue-collar jobs with technical jobs paying 50% MORE rather than replacing them with service jobs paying 50% LESS. Of course that requires education…

If you run out of unskilled workers (unlikely), you can allow greater immigration. There is an endless supply of unskilled immigrants who see minimum wage in the US as a big step up from their current opportunities.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

Whoa TFF… you lost me several times. Reality, which I will not deny, is that unskilled labor is being paid as though they are worthless. They are not blue collar workers… they are the working poor of the service industry. Some would be better off on welfare but are too proud to be. The point is they are not worth less. The USA isn’t China.

So if education is key, then answer the question please… It was : “Can America Improve its bad jobs.”

And my questions I asked earlier were: How is higher education key in the service industry? There are not enough jobs to go round. How are you going to train for better and greater skills, pray tell, to what end? To whom will they have value in a shrinking economy? I really think you should elaborate what jobs, what skills and what education?

I think I have a better grasp of reality then your pie in the sky paying blue collar 50% more as a solution to… heck tell me, What? I am so lost. Not unemployment or making service industry jobs better.

I am also curious why you would add a link in one post and then disagree with it in another. The people in the link are making jobs. It is a “in house” solution that will not have an effect on Urbanites and puts people back to work. It is a win win as the rural life is cheaper, homes are cheaper and they have a job in their field (IT was one example, so white collar) or can easily be trained

So what business are you in TFF that you think someone deserves less then minimum wage? Are you in a business where your labour cannot be outsourced and are jealous? You are forgetting some fundamentals about unskilled labour and the service industry.

Toilets will always have to be cleaned. Beds will always have to be made, for some time yet we want people to cook and serve food, and someone has to load the dishwasher and pick the produce. And these jobs can’t be replaced because at the moment they are still deemed necessaryor they wouldn’t exist. I do not get what you mean by replacing the jobs… unless you have a plan for making the population decrease.

Some of those unskilled are poor, have mental or physical disabilities, are single moms with kids, aging, immigrants and most would be happy to be upgraded to skilled labour. A lot of them will do just that which is why they were willing to take on any job available to feed themselves and often their family until they can afford to upgrade. Some take on 3 jobs. A lot of the jobs are shift work, part time and some are temporary.
Some are dirty, underground, toxic, monotonous and dangerous.

One last little question. When you say unskilled labour isn’t worth much, is that compared to the Hedge fund managers scheming how to make more money then God?

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

“So if education is key, then answer the question please… It was : “Can America Improve its bad jobs.”

I’ve offered three answers, depending on your preferences… Take your pick.
(1) Instead of creating BAD jobs, create GOOD jobs. If the question asked has no good answer, then ask a better question.
(2) Limit unskilled labor supply by restricting immigration.
(3) Reduce unskilled labor supply by turning at least part of it into a SKILLED labor supply.

Why do you assume that I’m arguing this for selfish reasons? I’m arguing what I believe to be the best solution to a serious problem. In fact I don’t employ anybody, and don’t stand to gain/lose more than anybody else if the minimum wage is raised. In fact I would support raising the minimum wage (and/or nationalizing health care), I simply don’t believe it makes sense to do this when we already have unemployment in the high teens.

As for the link having no effect on Urbanites, do you truly believe that? We are one nation — and what benefits one region benefits all. And yes, there are many people currently holding UNSKILLED jobs who can easily be trained for SKILLED jobs. It is a win-win solution, as you say.

Why can’t single moms with kids hold skilled jobs? Why can’t the aging hold skilled jobs? As for the poor, they aren’t stupid. Poverty can be cured through education. What you say is correct — but it is also a strongly elitist attitude to assume they are not capable of better.

Once again, the only way I see to simultaneously improve the QUANTITY of jobs and QUALITY of jobs, both of which are desperately needed right now, is through education. Train somebody for a job in IT or as a lab tech and they’ll bring some of those jobs back from China. Jobs paying a median-plus wage. People employed in skilled jobs use that new income to create other unskilled jobs (daycare, food service, landscaping). As employment rises and the ranks of the unemployed are thinned, businesses will find that they must pay more than the minimum wage to attract reliable labor. And perhaps that would be a good time to increase the minimum wage?

In any case, that’s my vision. What is yours?

Finally, you can’t truly address this problem without addressing immigration. As it stands, we severely restrict SKILLED immigration while effectively allowing unlimited UNSKILLED immigration. This makes no sense at all! We have skilled jobs going begging (or leaving the country) at the same time that we have a large oversupply of unskilled labor.

The present situation is good for two groups. It is good for business owners who benefit from an exploitable pool of unskilled labor (agriculture, construction, landscaping) and it is good for those immigrants whose situation would otherwise be even worse. It is a very bad situation for unskilled labor in this country, and creates a host of other problems for the US overall.

What is your vision for that?

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

Sorry that I got a little personal in the discussion.

1) As I was trying to say, service industry jobs are pretty basic and were created out of necessity (what consumers deem necessary anyway). The bad jobs were created long ago and are not going away anytime soon. Yes we need to create good jobs. How? Which? Of value to whom? My suggestions for a greener future were as welcome as the President’s will be I see.

2) So back to restricting immigration. Yes that may help in the upper blue collar jobs, but being you believe in only immigration of skilled labourer, who will do the unskilled labour that no one else is willing to do? (see my previous posts for examples and understand businesses like farm produce will wholeheartedly disagree)

3)Now here is something no one would argue with. But I will argue that anyone who can do so, already is. Be it monetarily, physically or mentally. Do you really think the person who is working at 3 jobs will not be willing to upgrade and become skilled at the drop of a hat?

The ‘insourcing’ article was intriguing and yes over time it will erode the urbanites, IF there is another recession, that is just inevitable anyway. Now had the fellow offering IT jobs at a lower rate been able to fill his quota of needs in Urban areas he would have done so. Young up and coming IT’s are not as likely to jump, are they.

But, he was able to attract utilizing the FACT that older people are considered less employable by offering them jobs in their field but, made sure it was in a rural setting with advantages that a younger person would not much appreciate .. Quiet, urban, own your own home appeal, make your salary go further appeal.

Now in answer to you other questions, why can’t a single female with children ‘hold’ skilled jobs? I didn’t say they could not hold them. They are unskilled for a reason. In order to become skilled they would need to go on welfare, get financial assistance for school, which may not pay it all or pay for books and get a sitter for the kids and still pay all the bills. Need I say more? (There is much more but I will let you look that up should you really care)

The aging are often looking for work after illness, being laid off or being let go because they are close to retirement and about to collect benefits at a higher rate or considered slower and less flexible mentally and physically then the youth, even though that may not be true. This person is more likely to have skill but is considered less hireable because of age and because he is older, he will now be considered unskilled. Being over 50 I can elaborate, but I’ll be kind and not fill even more space then I tend to.

As for my vision, I had ideas in my original posts on income inequality and here. And if you didn’t get my drift I also disagree with Nafta and outsourcing of manufacturing and innovation and think we need both back.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

Responding to your points…

(1) While there will always be unskilled jobs (have to pick those strawberries somehow!), the quantity depends on the pricing. If you were to increase the cost of landscaping services by 50%, a lot more people would mow their own lawn. If you were to increase the cost of eating in a restaurant by 50%, people would be much more inclined to cook for themselves. And so forth…

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t increase service-sector wages, but does caution at least SOME sensitivity to the consequences. Push that change too fast or at the wrong time, and you’ll simply dump another 20 million people on the unemployment rolls.

(2) Personally, I wouldn’t try to limit immigration — I would expand legal immigration to meet the demand. But the original question asked, “Can America improve its bad jobs?” I think you’ll have a REALLY hard time doing so while allowing open immigration. These “bad jobs” are already ten times better than what is available in Mexico or China.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we DID successfully limit immigration and crack down on undocumented immigrants. Who will work the farms? Why not presently-unemployed American citizens? You might need to pay them $15/hour to get them out in those fields, but you’ll find takers if the price is right.

And yes, I realize that many goods and services would be more expensive in such a scenario. (See my response to point #1.) But don’t dismiss the possibility offhand… Such a policy would help at least as many people as it hurts. Among other things it would make small local farms more viable. All strawberries need picking, but the local farmers currently pay much higher wages than the factory farms. You have to be big and powerful to openly flout the law.

(3) Go back and re-read that article. I was most intrigued by, “One rural outsourcer, Onshore Technology Services, recruits workers from minimum-wage jobs and gives them intensive training in IT specialties.”

If we agree that educating a single mother with children is desirable, then all that remains is to appropriately structure a program to achieve that goal. If necessary, pay for the training program, pay her minimum wage while she is learning, and pay for child care. What might that cost for a 12-month intensive program? Perhaps $30k? We’d get that back in taxes and economic growth within five years. The nice thing about education is it lasts a lifetime…

Conventional colleges and existing programs aren’t going to work for somebody in that situation, but why limit yourself?

Your vision? I like the idea of investing in clean energy startups (heck, I like the idea of investing in almost ANY startup — the payback on that is incredible). But I don’t see how that will do much for the plight of migrant farm workers or other unskilled laborers. Am I missing something? Suppose it can be a piece of the puzzle…

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

Thanks TFF, I really did enjoy reading the URL and the discussion. My vision is limited (literally heheh) but hopeful and innovation usually begets new jobs for a wide spectrum once it goes beyond the research stage.

I found this page, which also has a chart imbedded, on older labour being less hireable.

http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2010/0 7/older-more-educated-workers-have.html

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive
 

hsv, I’m guessing my read of that chart is a little different from yours…

38% percent of the population has a high school degree or less. Yet they make up 55% of the unemployed and 54% of the long-term unemployed.

The job search may be a few weeks longer for the older and educated workers (not surprising, because those skills are more specialized and the interview/hiring process is longer). Yet this doesn’t alter the fact that a less-educated person is more likely to find themselves unemployed and less likely to find a rewarding job. The difference between 28 weeks and 36 weeks is significant — and we both understand the reasons behind that difference — but it doesn’t fundamentally change the picture.

I would encourage the older unemployed to look for unconventional opportunity. When you are 25, you have neither the experience nor the resources to strike out on your own. When you are 45, you have the skills and savings to make your own path. Do you truly need a corporate boss? I don’t.

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