Job Polarization Wiping out Middle Income Workers

The Oregonian article ‘Job polarization’ leaves out middle-income wages: Oregon Politics reminds us what happens when our ideals are so widely different from our goals.

Low cost manufacturing goes away and doesn’t come back. We’ve known about this for a long time, so we need to stop kidding ourselves. There is no avoiding mass production is becoming more and more mobile.  Factories are better able to be retooled to make different things, and there is always more cost you can shave off of production by moving to the lowest priced labor pool. It is a waste of time for Oregon to pursue these because, like the SolarWorld debacle illustrates, just favoring a green focused industry isn’t enough.

Specialty manufacturing that requires the brain-trust remain close to production is another matter. A local economy can only sustain so much of that, because these products are always going to be more expensive than their low cost, outsourced equivalents. They can only be broadly successful if the product is also portable outside of the area. Wineries are a good example of this.

Service industry jobs that are not highly skilled have a limited future – they have been continuously eroded through automation systems, which keeps prices low, expectations of low prices means you cannot keep increasing the cost of labor. Oregon is caught in a perpetual cycle of high cost of living vs relatively low wages. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that if you don’t have the money to spend on extras like dinner out, you eat in. If middle income wages are being wiped out, Oregonians don’t have the money to spend on non-essentials. Non-highly skilled service industry jobs are not going to keep up unless the value perception is high for what they are doing because Oregonians simply do not have the discretionary money for high wages and generous tipping on low cost services.

Evidence is somewhat anecdotal on the number of times people actually end up changing jobs and careers.  Yet Oregonians cannot afford to treat anecdotal evidence as non-existent. If Oregonians are going to maintain middle incomes they have to proactively adapt to change. Here’s what I believe every worker needs to do:

  • Do an honest assessment about future earnings with your current skill set and take ownership of your responsibility for self improvement
  • Proactively plan your next career move based on what you can make in the next career and if that career is sustainable
  • Seek out training that will help you make your next career move, self funding this if necessary
  • Take any work you are qualified for, until you find the one you really want, because high motivation is transferable to any job

Don’t wait for new jobs to come that aren’t coming. It isn’t possible for every Oregonian to be a true entrepreneur in the classic sense of self funding a start up. But every worker must become self-entrepreneurial.


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