Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year's Greeting: Ms. Found Under a Latte

Found at the stand-up bar in a neighboring chain coffee shop, evidently left behind by the hairy guy with the rank odor who just shuffled dejectedly out the door:
Welcome back to the world of the living. I hope you enjoyed your nap.  A lot has happened since you fell asleep in your cave in 1972. Let me see if I can bring you up to date:
  1. Family income has been more or less flat since 1980. Quality and quantity of male employment has fallen.  Women have taken a larger role in the market workforce, although still stuck with more than their share of household chores.
  2. We talk about the change as a decline in manufacturing but it isn't; we still manufacture a lot but we do it with fewer and fewer employees. In an earlier time we talked about automation; today we talk about robotics but whatever; the fact is that the phase that ended around 1980 was probably the last in human history during which a guy with the skills and training of a Homer Simpson could make enough to support a non-working wife and three kids with a nice house and a car in the garage.
  3. We did have an employment/wealth boom of sorts in the 90s, but it was almost entirely restricted to five counties: Manhattan; Seattle, San-Francisco-San-Mateo-Santa-Clara We had another boom in the aughts but it was entirely illusionary, as people survived a declines in employment and income by drawing “wealth” out of their homes.
  4. Otherwise, we've become a service economy where people, if the work at all, hold relatively low-paying jobs scanning barcodes, answering phone calls or emptying bedpans.
  5. We still talk about the return of a manufacturing golden age but it's beginning to dawn on us that those jobs are never coming back. We've learned to make more and more with less and less to a point where we simply don't need armies of workers. And just in passing: it's not that all the jobs have gone to China, or wherever: jobs did go overseas, but our competitors have found that the same forces are constricting opportunities for them as well.
  6. By the way, did I mention that we are mostly living longer and looking forward to a funded retirement? And that the oceans are rising and we are running out of fuel? 
  1. When we talk about how we might face this problem, we talk about the need for “more education.” What do we mean when we talk about “more education,” what can we mean? [but from here on, the manuscript is obscured by the stains of a pumpkin latte. Scientists at the Institute for Coffee Stain Removal are on the case, and we may be able to provide more content later.]

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