It seems to be happening to more and more people. They have had good, well paying jobs and all of a sudden the job disappears due to technology or off-shoring or some other reason. They find another job, but unfortunately it pays less and may not be as personally rewarding work. There is a family to support, it is a job, but the pay is less and the work less desirable. This seems to be a common scenario. The production line jobs of the midwest that supported many working, middle class families are gone.. In there place robots, automation and technology. The power of unions that supported these jobs has drastically diminished. And it is not just manufacturing. The technology is pervasive. It is impacting the vast service sector of our economy. Professionals are being replaced by artificial intelligence systems. All this is happening while the national unemployment rate is at historic lows. But this metric says nothing of the type of jobs being filled. The fact is that a large segment of the working population is feeling like they have taken a major step backwards – they have regressed. No longer does the younger generation feel like they will do better than their parents generation, what seemed to be the norm in the decades after WWII. And on top of this no one in power to do something about it, seems to be paying attention. If a politician talks about the situation, it seems to be lip service only. Policy does not change, and if it does, it seems to only exacerbate the situation.
It is natural to feel like the system has let one down, and to look for someone or something to blame, when one has been forced to regress. Regress with no real hope that it is only temporary. The perceived culprits are many – immigrants who take the good paying jobs, government policies that encourage corporations to offshore jobs, a capitalist system that encourages corporations to reduce labor content in the name of competitive forces, technology driven automation that eliminates good jobs, political parties that seem to be blind to the plight of the working class. Given all this, is it any wonder that there is so much distrust of politicians, backlash against immigration and free trade?
So what to do? It is critical that our political parties start paying attention to the needs and concerns of what used to be or middle class citizens. This means new faces, new ideas, more centrist thinking and less polarized extremism. This means finding and electing representatives that understand the plight and the criticality of a healthy, productive middle class in our democracy. Hopefully this can start with the 2018 midterm election.
Photo by BLMOregon