The article, “Where the jobs are -- and aren't”, written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Ann Belser and published on Sunday is sub-titled, “Shift to service economy reduces number of positions with higher pay”. Belser begins,
The U.S. government counts 2.7 million people working in the fast-food business these days, a 43 percent increase from a decade ago, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have materialized for those working with small children or helping sick people stay in their homes. All those jobs have average wages ranging from $18,000 to $20,000.
The first decade of the 21st century wasn't so great, however, for the workers who do things like assemble engines, drill machines or operate shoe-making machines -- and earn an annual mean wage just above $30,000. More than half the jobs in some manufacturing occupations were lost.”
Belser says that she got her information by comparing the annual Occupational Employment Statistics survey; released each May by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from this May and May, 1999. The picture painted by the numbers is a clear view of the shift (begun almost certainly during the Reagan years but accelerated with the expansion of the “New World Economy” under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) from a manufacturing, living wage economy to the current service economy.
Here is a sampling of the data:
“As the number of retail positions grows, there are more people trying to figure out who will buy what. There were three times more market research analysts in 2009 (226,410) than a decade before.
Other changes show the shift from one-income households to two-income households.
Child care employment has increased over the decade by 58 percent to almost 600,000 jobs that pay a median wage of $21,000 a year…
… Personal and home care aides, work that used to be done for sick relatives by family, is also a job category in which the employment has more than doubled to more than 630,000 jobs as people don't have the same time to care for their loved ones. Those workers are earning about $20,000 a year.
The growth in the fast-food sector and other growth seen in restaurants in general is another manifestation of outsourcing household work.
Meanwhile those occupations for people who produce things are in decline.
Over the last decade, the nation has lost more than half of the jobs for people who work forging machines, drilling and boring machines and who assemble engines and other machines -- jobs that earn a bit more than $30,000 a year.
Fewer than 4,000 people now operate shoe-making machines and just 13,000 are operating fabric bleaching and dying machines. Tool and die makers, who make about $48,000 a year, wood pattern makers ($38,000 annually) and book binders (paying $33,000 a year) also have seen huge decreases in employment…”
Belser (I believe rightly) sees the resulting picture as “…a shift to a service economy that has devastated the economic core of traditional middle-class jobs, replacing better-paying jobs with low-level service jobs.” She correctly points out that this is not the first time in our country’s history that we have seen such a dramatic shift in employment patterns by pointing out the shift from an agrarian society to a manufacturing society (over 100 years ago). However, while acknowledging the supply-siders and free traders who paint a rosey picture for consumers, she gives considerable space to an economist from the Center for American Progress.
“A change in the nature of the economy does not mean that there needs to be a wholesale routing of middle class jobs, said Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress.
When, at the turn of the 20th century, the country went from an agrarian economy to an industrial one: "In the process, we went from a lot of bad jobs that became good jobs done through deliberate policies and organizing."
And, while the Internet and free trade have changed the landscape of the modern economy, she noted that other countries similarly affected by opening borders and new technologies, such as Japan, Germany and other European countries, have not seen the job shift the U.S. has seen.
"They have not seen the same rising in inequality or hollowing out of their middle class," she said.
Ms. Boushey said the decline in the number of people in manufacturing jobs does not mean the nation cannot rebuild its manufacturing base through policies that promote production, or that service workers cannot organize so that service jobs become good jobs.
"We make choices about how we think about our economy, what we are going to promote and not promote," she said.”
And herein lies the rub. While it does not have to be that American workers remain in decline with regard to wages and benefits; the pro-business/anti-labor atmosphere that (in)famously began with Reagan’s firing of the Air Traffic Controllers (sending the strong signal to management that they now had a friend in government) sees us now in a position where even majority Democrat legislatures run away from some of the most basic "labor friendly” legislation. Simple measures that would merely make organizing in the work place more accessible or protect workers from mandatory management propaganda sessions are routinely left off the floor as sacrificial offerings to big business.
As Mike Sells put it when he re-posted the article on his Facebook page,
“…The long, slow slide downward economically that comes from denigrating unions, and off shoring manufacturing work will come back to haunt us. With labor laws broken with impunity, people intimidated on the job from organizing and the private sector only organized at around 7%, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak. People are expected to buy and consume goods and services in this society. It can’t be sustained without living wages and benefits. Even old Henry Ford understood that his workers had to make a decent living to be able to afford the cars they were making. ...”
There is a certain amount of promise with the current administration’s vision of new “Green Technology Jobs”. But even the creation of new jobs, as we can see from Ann Belser’s report; does not guarantee living wage jobs. One of the first things we need to do to reverse this trend is to pass the “Employee Free Choice Act” before Congress today. Locally we need to elect more pro-labor representatives who will fight for the working people of our state. And perhaps just as importantly we as working men and women need to defend our fellow workers at every opportunity and start to turn back this tide of anti-unionism that has taken such a firm hold in this country.
Chad (The Left) Shue