When General Motors was the nation’s largest employer in the 1950s, they employed highly educated people such as engineers and scientists. Even their ‘grunt’ and semi-skilled workers were comparatively well compensated for their dedication and hard work. Now fast forward to the 2010s and WalMart, now the nation’s largest employer, has no need of highly educated skills.
My point here is that, as a nation, we’ve gone from an innovative and producing nation to a country dotted with retail stores and tanning salons. The only jobs left which are realistically obtainable for the masses (that is not in the highly paid niche sectors of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or the Bakken Oil Fields) are in the service sector.
The service sector has hourly pay rates which often hover between $8.00 – $14.00 per hour in many parts of the country. In fact, you should even consider yourself fortunate if you happen to be “comfortably” within the top half of that pay scale. The bottom line is that one’s education and life choices has little to do with outsourcing, globalization, and the destruction of living wage jobs in the US.
For instance, an older friend of mine has a Ph.D in physics with decades of experience working in his field. Since the company he worked for moved to China, he hasn’t been able to find work utilizing his education and skills. Now in his late 50s, he’s gone from a six-figure income to minimum wage. He made all the “right” decisions in life, yet is now working for WalMart, unable to make ends meet.
It’s a fantasy on Capital Hill that only the stupid, lazy and uneducated work for low wages. But what do we, as a nation, do about this sort of thing? Do we tell him it’s his own damn fault for not “pulling himself up by his bootstraps” or something cute like that? Do we have any shared responsibility at all for our free-falling standard of living?
Fortunately, some element of manufacturing is starting to return to the United States. But it’s largely due to a peculiar predicament. The cost of labor in China is now starting to rise to a level where the added cost of transporting materials back to the mainland USA doesn’t reap the profit margins it once commanded. How the world has changed.