Opinion: What happened to our good jobs?

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Over the last forty years, the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and the acclaimed American middle class has shrunk in size. Incomes for the lower ninety percent of the population have either remained flat or have fallen while the wealth of the top one percent, has grown to almost fifty percent of the nation’s total income. And of that figure, four hundred families own almost half of the top one percent. That is just wrong. The rest of the people of upper income brackets have managed to stay relatively unaffected by the losses incurred by the lower ninety percent. Millions of good jobs have been lost, and workers have either become unemployed, or have obtained employment in lower paying jobs, such as in the service industry. The older a person is the less likely he or she is able to find suitable employment. Once they have lost the good job, many never return to the work force.

After the 2008 financial crisis when the country nearly fell off the cliff, and the election of President Obama, there has been increasing unrest and division in the country. The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 was the beginning. The situation has only worsened since then, culminating on January 6th with the unbelievable assault on the United States Capitol building. It is obvious that people are angry and upset, and some are even at the point of being willing to sacrifice our constitutional democracy to save and reclaim what they perceive to be their lost status.

Their blame is directed at what they believe is responsible for their loss, such as immigration, integration, elitism, and “big government,” which they believe doesn’t care about them. Many blame the Democratic Party. The situation got so serious that an unqualified demagogue got himself elected as President of the United States, and even after an unquestioned defeat for a second term, still exercises enormous influence over the Republican Party, and refuses to concede his loss.

What happened to cause the serious divide in our country that is only second to the divide that caused the Civil War in 1860? Where did the good jobs and middle class prosperity go? Who and what is to blame? Is it the fault of “others” breaking in line in front of real Americans? Is it because our morality has slipped so badly that God is no longer with us, as the Christian right would have us believe? Is it because the younger generation is on dope, lazy, and doesn’t want to work? Or is it something else that has been swept under the rug?

The facts clearly show that the primary reason for the job and income loss and the middle class decline is the result of globalization, automation, and technology, which both Parties ignored until it was too late. One local example clearly illustrates the problem. When I graduated from Lutcher Stark High School in 1957, good jobs were available at the plants on chemical row, Levingston Shipbuilding, and American Bridge. If you didn’t want to go to college and you had a clean record, employment was readily available in our local industries. A young person could go in, be an apprentice or an operator trainee, and advance to a highly skilled job. Many of my classmates who didn’t seek a higher education got those jobs, worked until they retired and got a good retirement which they still enjoy. Their children were not so lucky. In 1940, the beginning of my generation, ninety percent of the young people were going to do better economically than their parents, today that figure is less than 50 percent. What happened? First, advancing technology resulted in automation in nearly every industry. Automation means that a robot or something like it can do a job that a human being used to do. The plants on chemical row are still there doing well but the plentiful jobs there aren’t. At least half of them have been lost, and to have one of them now you have to have a two year operator certificate from Lamar Orange or Lamar in Beaumont. The jobs require skill and intelligence. Levingston and American Bridge have gone the way of the dodo. Globalization means that it is a lot less expensive to build ships and manufacture pipe in other countries where the costs are less. The same thing can be said of many other industries, but our local example is clear. Who profited? People with educations that gave them the skills that were not replaceable, big corporations that could profit by sending work abroad and laying off American workers, and the rich who could invest their profits anywhere they wanted, and American workers be damned.

Who is at fault? Both major Patties either failed or didn’t want to recognize what was happening, and millions of people fell between the cracks. The federal government and state governments could have taken measures to attenuate the problem but it didn’t happen. The fault lies at the door of my generation, and those of us who could have done something and didn’t. Too many of us that had good jobs were obsessed with enjoying our own prosperity without caring about those who were losing out. It is shameful, and history will not treat the baby boomer generation kindly. Those of us who could have done more didn’t, and now we have a mess on our hands.

The next question is, what can be done to change the situation we find ourselves in? The fact is that despite of what some people want to believe, the federal government is the only institution that can do what is needed. We need another 1932, and another New Deal. The spearhead has got to be better and more education for everybody that needs it. We need to start earlier, and go later. Pre-K and at least two years beyond high school aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity, and it needs to be affordable. Lamar State College Orange is another good local example that cannot be ignored. Two years of education there are giving thousands of young people marketable skills and the good jobs that are available whether it is in the medical field, from Lamar Orange or Lamar in Beaumont. The jobs require skill and intelligence. Levingston and American Bridge have gone the way of the dodo. Globalization means that it is a lot less expensive to build ships and manufacture pipe in other countries where the costs are less. The same thing can be said of many other industries, but our local example is clear. Who profited? People with educations that gave them the skills that were not replaceable, big corporations that could profit by sending work abroad and laying off American workers, and the rich who could invest their profits anywhere they wanted, and American workers be damned.

Who is at fault? Both major Patties either failed or didn’t want to recognize what was happening, and millions of people fell between the cracks. The federal government and state governments could have taken measures to attenuate the problem but it didn’t happen. The fault lies at the door of my generation, and those of us who could have done something and didn’t . Too many of us that had good jobs were obsessed with enjoying our own prosperity without caring about those who were losing out. It is shameful, and history will not treat the baby boomer generation kindly. Those of us who could have done more didn’t, and now we have a mess on our hands.

The next question is, what can be done to change the situation we find ourselves in? The fact is that despite of what some people want to believe, the federal government is the only institution that can do what is needed. We need another 1932, and another New Deal. The spearhead has got to be better and more education for everybody that needs it. We need to start earlier, and go later. Pre-Kand at least two years beyond high school aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity, and it needs to be affordable. Lamar State College Orange is another good local example that cannot be ignored. Two years of education there are giving thousands of young people marketable skills and the good jobs that are available whether it is in the medical field, industry, or law enforcement. Our young people need to have the opportunity to get that kind of extra education without having to go into debt to get it. The average student debt at Lamar State College Orange is $19,000 when a person graduates, and that is ridiculous. Students ought to have free public education for fourteen years not twelve. Thousands of lives can be changed by simply making education more affordable. Additionally, we need medical care for everyone, decent and affordable housing, affordable daycare so moms can work, and a decent, livable minimum wage. Those factors alone can lift people out of poverty into the middle class and make the good skilled jobs attainable. And what about those who just can’t get the education because they just can’t do it? A humane government should put a safety net under the people who just aren’t mentally capable of doing jobs that require a skill that they can never get. It’s the right thing to do, and the richest country in the world ought to be able to find a way to do it.

The major social problem of the 21st century is how are we going to remake our society to provide good jobs and a good life for those who are capable of doing it, and how to provide a good life for those who can’t. That, and global warming are staring us in the face and we are either going to fall off the cliff or rise up like Americans have always done and avert the disaster that surely awaits us if we don’t. There isn’t much time left.

One final question, Which party is trying to do something about the problem described above? And which party is sitting on its hands, causing fear and blaming the “other”? As a truly great president said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Let’s unite, and move forward. There is no other solution.

 

John Cash Smith, Chairman

Orange County Democratic Party