Sunday, January 11, 2015

I have a job for you ... but, don't ask about the pay!

Faculty working their ways from kindergarten through their doctorates and then continuing on with teaching, without having had meaningful employment in the real world, is not unusual at all.  Sure, they might have held summer jobs somewhere, but that's it.  

Such a model works well for research universities.  But, those are not the places where the majority of the youth go for higher education--it is teaching universities like mine that serve the vast numbers.  And most students at the teaching universities have questions about jobs after graduation.  Ok, not all but the responsible ones do.  It is an increasingly difficult challenge for me to give them rosy, optimistic answers, given my understanding of the situation now and what I understand will be the immediate future.

Though the argumentative Indian who lives in India disagrees with me, I don't buy into his optimism for the future and how labor is overpriced in the US, especially when I read pieces like this on employment and wages:
the labor force's 273,000 person decline was part of the reason the unemployment rate fell from 5.8 to 5.6 percent. The participation rate, which shows how many people have a job or are looking for one, ticked down to 62.7 percent, tying a 38-year low. That's not so good.
You know what else isn't good? Wages.
Yes, of course, I am continuing from where I left off yesterday.  Well, this thread is not anything new in this blog anyway!
it's a little surprising that wages have stayed stagnant despite declining unemployment. That's not supposed to happen, not when joblessness is under 6 percent. Indeed, unemployment is already near the semi-mythical "natural rate" of, the Fed guesses, 5.2 to 5.5 percent, where inflation is supposed to start accelerating. The idea is that workers have more bargaining power when there aren't as many people out of work—so they can demand higher wages, which turns into higher prices.
That this hasn't happened tells us that there's still a decent amount of slack in the labor market. And that's clear enough if you look at how, even now, millions of people can only find part-time jobs when they want full-time ones, or have been looking for work for six months or longer.
So, yes, there is employment.  But, employment that is not full-time work. And even that full-time being vast under-employment with low wages.

Generating jobs even as the economy shows robust growth is getting to be difficult:
The problem is that most industries formed since 2000—electronic auctions, Internet news publishers, social-networking sites, and video- and audio-streaming services, all of which appeared in official industry classifications for the first time in 2010—employ far fewer people than earlier computer-based industries. Whereas in 2013 IBM and Dell employed 431,212 and 108,800 workers, respectively, Facebook employed only 8,348 as of last September.
The bottom-line is:
the digitization of the economy may have far-reaching implications for the future of growth and employment.
So, what can be done?
there is much that governments can do to prevent stagnation. They can redistribute income to those with a higher propensity to spend. They can also support investment into industries that might foster more new jobs than digital technologies—jobs for solar photovoltaic installers, wind energy engineers, biofuels production managers and transportation planners.
Finally, while digital technologies may create fewer jobs than previous innovations, they also substantially reduce the amount of money it takes to start a new digital business—and that will make it possible for more people to become entrepreneurs. Indeed, self-employment might become the new normal. The challenge for economic policy is to create an environment that rewards and encourages more entrepreneurial risk taking. A basic guaranteed income, for instance, would help by capping the downside to entrepreneurial failure while boosting spending and combating inequality.
Wait, wait, wait--that laundry list requires a great deal of responsible discussions in the political space, especially at the federal level, in the House, in the Senate, and at the White House.  Which means ... yep, the youth are screwed!

So ... as a faculty at a teaching university, if I present such a view to students, then I will be turning students away from my classes.  Perhaps I should simply tell them that my job is to only teach a few courses and that their jobs is not my concern.  Nope, that ain't me.  Which means ... yep, I am screwed!


Ramesh said...

Two big themes in your post that I agree with

Firstly, new technology and innovation is putting pressure on overall number of jobs. This has been going on for centuries, but the pace now is accelerating enough for it to be a major social issue

Secondly there is a need to genuine social and political debate on the implications. Fat chance of that ever happening (in any country).

Beyond that, I don't agree with the general sentiment of gloom. Your students aren't screwed and neither are you. The traditional virtues of good values, hard work, acquiring skills and making a good life have not gone out of fashion.

Anne in Salem said...

As I have already made my economic views apparent, I will add only two comments to this post. First, American wages are asinine. A teen working fast food earning $9.25 is ridiculous and unsustainable. Field workers performing minimally skilled jobs earning $11 is equally ridiculous. Minimum wage was never intended to be a livable wage, nor was intended to be earned for a sustained period of time. This needs fixing.

The scariest sentence in the post is from the SA article: "There is much that governments can do to prevent stagnation." No, no, a thousand times no. Keep government out of business, let business run itself, and see how quickly the ship is righted.

Sriram Khé said...

Crap, uber-conservatives commenting in my blog. Who let them in? ;)

I suppose one thing we will all agree with: it is high time the social contract in the US is reworked. While Anne might have proposals that will be different from mine, for all the reasons that she believes are on solid grounds, well, if only the country's politicians actually engaged in that important work!

The trouble is that to many hard work is not translating to a good life--a good life measured in incomes and wealth. Which is why there is a push to increase minimum (living) wages, for instance. And Anne opposes that for reasons that are strong within her political philosophy. (BTW, fast food employment is no longer a teenage employment--the numbers of middle-aged and older workers depending on that for their livelihood is astounding, which is why the push for higher wages.)

The three of us are engaged in a lot more constructive dialog than those elected officials do, it seems ... thanks for your views even if we disagree ... now, if only I could convince you how wrong you conservatives are ;)

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