Greed -vs- Jobs
I watched the presidential debates over the past few weeks, which requires some effort on my part because I don't own a TV. Since I watched all of the debates at several different pubs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was unable to indulge my desire to throw popcorn and other objects at the TV during crucial moments, although I did manage to slip in several smart ass quips when one or the other of our two presidential candidates came up for a breath of air. Encouraged by my fellow patrons' ensuing amusement and my own state of debate-generated confusion, I have been bitten by the "opinionation bug", just as everyone else has been in blogland.
Predictably, several comments made during the last round of the debates put my panties into an especially tight twist while also making me choke on my wine and gee, I'll bet you can already guess who said them.
As a newly unemployed person sitting in a bar with a bunch of (employed) strangers, I was particularly surprised by George Bush's evasive answer to the unemployment question. Instead of showing that he is not out-of-touch with the average American by addressing issues that unemployed people must deal with, he instead pontificated about "create[ing] the jobs of the 21st century". This answer was a verbal slap across the face of every American. Instead of telling us why his economic policies provide tax incentives that favor American companies that hire overseas, instead of explaining why his administration does not allow unemployed job seekers to renew their Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits after six months so they can reduce or avoid debt, bankruptcy and possibly even homelessness, Bush instead yammered about sending us to local community colleges so we could get the training necessary for those mythical "21st Century Jobs". Not surprisingly, Bush neglected to address several important issues that confuse me still; can his proposed two-year college degree really provide the training necessary for these "21st Century Jobs"? What are these new "21st Century Jobs" and won't they also be "outsourced" to the cheaper overseas labor market? Since UI lasts only six months and provides a minimal amount of financial support, how can an unemployed person simultaneously afford tuition, books and living expenses while being educated at a community college for two years?
Because I couldn't find any statistics for unemployed people with two-year Associate's Degrees, I decided to instead ask how many unemployed people in the USA have four-year college degrees: Does Bush even know? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a Bachelor's Degree had a 3% unemployment rate at the end of 2003, which are the most recent statistics that I could find. But if this unemployment rate for people with Bachelor's Degrees is due to "outsourcing" or "downsizing", I fail to see how an additional two-year community college degree can resolve this problem. In fact, I would guess that jobs requiring a two-year degree are more easily outsourced than are jobs that require more education.
Of course, these numbers do not include that growing number of people with a Bachelor's Degree who are "underemployed"; who are working "survival jobs" with little or no security, that pay poorly (often with no benefits) and are outside their field of expertise. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any statistics for "underemployment" although my underemployed friends tell me it is very common (I also expect I will be "underemployed", unless I end up with nothing at all after UI ends). I have also not yet been able to find any unemployment statistics for people with advanced degrees, although I know these numbers are collected because I provided them on my own application for UI (oddly, Master's and Doctoral Degrees are classified together). Considering this information, I am confused as to how an additional Associate's Degree can resolve the underemployment problem for people with Bachelor's, Master's or Doctorate degrees.
In view of these statistics, education is obviously not a panacea for unemployment. In fact, everyone I know who is unemployed has at least "some college" as classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and most whom I know have a Master's Degree while several have a Doctorate. Granted, my friends represent a biased sample, but this does not negate the fact that all of them are having difficulties finding work, any work. The reasons are clear; for innumerable unvoiced reasons, employers simply refuse to hire anyone who is "overqualified" or, alternatively, if hired, the wages at these so-called "survival jobs" are so abysmal that they create enormous difficulties for simply paying rent and thus, many underemployed people are forced to rely on food banks and food stamps to avoid malnutrition or worse, and to rely on community free clinics to cover their health needs while worrying they will lose their job entirely if they miss work when they or their kids get sick or when they interview for another (better) position. All this, and they still must devote many hours every day to finding adequate employment in their field. Many give up.
This leads me to ask why UI is not renewable? The statistics show that many people cannot find a permanent job -- often even a temporary poorly-paying "survival job" -- within 26 weeks, so why should they be punished by not being allowed to extend UI while continuing their job search? No one can survive indefinitely on UI anyway, but it is at least enough to cover most people's rent while they look for appropriate work. How are these people supposed to survive after their UI ends? More "temping"? Credit cards? Theft? Welfare? Sleeping in their mother's garage? But if they have no family (like me), do they end up in a shelter?
"Outsourcing" itself raises important issues. But before I discuss that further, I want to make it clear that my unemployment situation does not stem from "outsourcing": instead, my unemployment results from funding cuts to government agencies that support basic research, such as the National Science Foundation; faculty hiring freezes at a fair number of universities; and the increasing reliance by a large and growing number of universities on hiring poorly-paid adjunct ("temp") professors to teach their students so their few older and more established professors can enjoy a reduced or non-existant teaching load while pursuing research. But undoubtedly, I will be ranting about that later!
Do the short-term financial advantages to American Corporations resulting from "outsourcing" labor outweigh the risks of longer-term disasters that could result? For an example, let's look at the recent flu vaccine fiasco. Our government contracted with a British company to produce flu vaccine for Americans to supplement vaccine that is produced here, but this company apparently had poor quality control and their vaccine was ultimately destroyed as unsafe, leaving this country with a severe shortfall. This vaccine shortage can pose a threat of unknown magnitude to our health and even our national security, especially because a potent strain of avian influenza currently lurks a few hours' air travel away (Does anyone remember the great flu pandemic of 1918?). But why were we purchasing flu vaccine from a company in England when it can be, should be, and IS produced here?
Since the English flu vaccine was contaminated and thus deemed unusable, we will instead purchase flu vaccine from Canada -- but wait a minute ... didn't Bush claim in the 8 October debates that people should not be purchasing drugs from Canada because if "it [pharmaceutics] looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world" (sic)? I think this incomprehensible statement can be translated to mean that Bush believes Canadian drugs are either comparable in quality to those found in Third World countries or that they originated in Third World countries. (What do the Canadians think about this?) If either scenario is true, then why is our government doing the very thing that Bush denies to private citizens; purchasing "dangerous" pharmaceuticals from Canada? Is this Canadian vaccine trustworthy? If it is, then why should we believe that other Canadian drugs are as "dangerous" as Bush claims they are? Does this obvious policy conflict make any sense to you?
Another important question is whether Bush even knows what are his proposed "21st century jobs" that he promises to educate us for? Our previous economic/employment downturn in 1992 (when Bush's daddy was in the White House, hrmmm) occurred when our economy was transformed from manufacturing to a service-based economy. But now, both manufacturing and service jobs are disappearing and there is nothing left for anyone to grab on to, hence our "jobless recovery", so no one -- not even George Bush -- knows what these "21st century jobs" are. If Bush doesn't know what these jobs are, how can he claim that a two-year degree is adequate or appropriate for them?
Can he even speculate as to what sort of education we might need? Because Bush wants "to emphasize math and science in the classrooms", it appears that he thinks these jobs might be somehow related to math and science. But I am a scientist whose profession involves cloning, sequencing and analyzing DNA, which is very high-tech and cutting-edge, indeed, "21st Century", yet I am unemployed, and I know several others who are, too. So there is a little discrepancy here regarding the future employment value and job security for those educated in the maths and sciences.
Or maybe Bush's mysterious "21st Century Jobs" are those that simply cannot be outsourced or automated: jobs such as waiting tables, driving a taxi, being a bike messenger, a janitor, a cat sitter or a dog walker, delivering pizza, working in the corporate mailroom; jobs that for the most part, pay poorly, provide little security and few, or no, benefits.
Clearly, this country is suffering a crisis of corporate greed. Our nation and its future are being damaged by the loss of jobs as corporations pursue ever greater profits at the expense of their employees, loss of meaningful financial and social support for unemployed workers, increasing demand by employers for workers with expensive college educations to fill any sort of job, even jobs for which a college degree represents no demonstrable value, and an overall loss of respect for the dignity and humanity of all working people. Our national policies favor corporate interests over the interests of their workers. Is this any way to treat people who want to work? Is this any way to treat people who were working until they became victims of "downsizing" or "outsourcing" or whatever else? Is this any way to treat people who worked hard and sacrificed to get a college degree or two in the hopes that they would have a better life? What sort of country are we transforming into?
© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist