“Where are the jobs???”

Everybody is asking this, and no one is answering. No one on the right, and no one on the left. Would you like to know why American government hasn’t done a damn thing to put more of its citizens back to work? No, you don’t really want to know, and that’s why everyone goes more or less silent on the topic. The answer is not what anyone wants to hear or believe.

The jobs, or at least, the “good,” living wage, stable, American-Dream-building jobs that substantially raised the standard of living for millions of our working- and middle-class citizens in the 20th Century, are gone, and are not coming back. The jobs that are available now? Low-paid, low-skilled, no benefits, part-time work that no one wants and cannot support themselves with, much less a family, or highly-skilled and specialized, taking years of training and very particular personal attributes. This reflects the polarized economic situation we find ourselves in now. We are the have and have-nots, rather than the most-everybody-has-enoughs.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that a crash would come, and remain. The United States for most of its short life, was primarily an agricultural and small-service-business economy. You likely lived out your days in or near the same town where you were born, and probably went into the same work as your parents, and depended on your family and community to help you when you needed help. Unless you came from money already, you probably never had more than a very modest income. Then the Industrial Revolution came along, and the agricultural model faded away. People flocked to cities to make their fortunes in new ways, and stayed there. Unions and new legislation supplied workers in these new big businesses with the protections people formerly found from family, or did without. With a healthier population that worked fewer hours for more money, came the Consumer Society. We had leisure time and disposable income for the first time, and it felt damn good. Cars, single-family homes, land, vacations, color TVs, swimming pools, movie stars…could be had by most, through hard work and saving, low costs and high wages.

And then, it ended. Big Business figured out how to make more money by Taking Business Elsewhere. The U.S. workers were never going to want to work for less money and less benefits, but workers elsewhere in the world would be delighted. Everyday costs spiraled out of control, more and more workers found themselves “redundant” as they went up the pay scale or got closer to pension/retirement, factories closed, small businesses went belly-up. We counted too much on corporations and businesses to be fair to the employees who built them into successes, complained that the government taxed us too highly for shabby service, and then went around blaming the other guy for the lifestyle crash that seemed to come out of nowhere.

So this is what might be true: perhaps it is more truthful and more universal that the money, goods, and power in the world will always be held by a tiny few who use what they have to secure more and more and more in whatever way they can. American Dream for them; American Nightmare for you. Despite our Constitution and all the good intentions and good people out there, perhaps we have expected too much for too many for too long. What is “fair” just may not be realistically sustainable. Things are always changing, and some things are stubbornly the same, especially when it comes to greed and human nature.

How do we survive a permanent change like this, those of us who know only the Boom Times and those of us looking to an uncertain future? It takes getting down to the essentials of what it really means to live within your means, and what to do to change our educational model to set as many of our citizens up to succeed in life as best they can. I’ll write more about what I think we should do in schools tomorrow.