Sunday, March 13, 2016

Get a job! Part I

It's such a common thought, it doesn't occur to us that it might not work out.  Jobs are a relatively new idea, incidentally, and not yet fully fleshed out for many.  Curious?

Before our modern world of businesses and jobs, 90% of folks lived self-sufficiently.  Crops and herds on the home farm plus hunting and fishing, it was everybody's job, everybody's source of income, everybody's home and retirement plan.  Today, more than 70% of folks in the world still live that way.

In the U.S., the 20th century gave us the largest changes as the industrial revolution and two world wars reshaped the national economy.  Innovation brought efficiency to the agricultural realm and farms grew in size while the workforce became a smaller percentage with each passing year.

Workers migrated to the industrial areas and the denser populated areas hoping for a better standard of living. That worked fairly well although there were and still are difficulties with fair wages.  In the early days, the robber barons became obscenely wealthy on the backs of abused laborers.  Government got involved with a minimum wage intended to ensure a decent living.  That hasn't worked out particularly well, and there's a new problem emerging with the obscenely wealthy.  It's called the GAP.

When the country was populated by just a few million, there were unlimited resources and unlimited growth opportunities, or so it seemed.  As population increased, and particularly as population density increased, resources often fell behind the demand.  Employment wasn't as easy to come by as many hoped, and business policy wasn't particularly concerned as long as there was enough labor to exploit.  Jobs that pay a living wage aren't automatically available even if you've got skills.

In periods of recession, reasonable wages for reasonable skills decline, and under-employment blossoms.  In the same periods, big businesses shed personnel and demand more from those who are retained.  That's the way capitalism works, and it's gotten progressively more ruthless since the 80's when business schools set the bottom line of profitability as the only goal of management.

Wages have been generally flat for more than four decades.  The majority of households have lost ground financially, and most single wage-earner homes are now led by a single mom; 30% of them live with their children in poverty.  Greater indebtedness, less saving, and increased costs for pretty much everything are the norm.  The top quintile has done well enough, and the top decile has done spectacularly well.  That's where the GAP shows up.  The wealthy have good progress and expect it to continue, while the average household is struggling to keep up with the basics of housing, food, and education for their kids.  The numbers are an insult to Americans and everything they stand for.  Economic forecasts suggest it will get worse quickly as governments continue to serve business rather than citizens.

Telling someone who is struggling to 'get a job', or criticising someone who gets assistance because their full time employment plus a part-time gig don't provide a living wage, that's the sort of comment that comes from someone who is privileged, uninformed, and perhaps selfishly uninvolved in the real world.

That's the informed conservative perspective.  The liberal narrative on the subject is a bit more harsh.

Everything has changed.  This is not the 50's when everyone was expecting a step up for their kids.  You could work your way through college, you could be a stay-at-home mom while your kids were in elementary school, you could own your house, and if you both worked, you could have two cars, perhaps.  Neighborhoods were safe, doctors and hospitals and medicines were cheap, and upward mobility was the norm.   ... and nobody wanted a government handout.  Everybody wanted to make it on their own, no matter how hard they had to work.

Can we see  with clarity what's changed, and more importantly, can we see why?


Candidates' thoughts on the subject of persistent poverty.
- Workforce decline and forecasts.