- Vice: How to be Fashionable on a Budget
- New York Times: How to Perfect the Art of a Work Uniform
- The Economist: Last Trump for the Suit
- New York Times: In Towns Already Hit by Steel Mill Closings, a New Casualty: Retail Jobs
- Read the Original Post
By David Michael Newstead.
A lot has been said about blue-collar jobs and white-collar jobs, but you might be wondering what shirt collars have to do with our economy or how that became shorthand for class distinctions. The basic difference is this: blue-collar workers perform manual labor and white-collar workers don’t. The functional benefit of blue shirts is that they hide the dirt, smudges, and stains of manual labor better than other colors. So, this is advantageous for mechanics, factory workers, and plumbers. Meanwhile, the average white-collar office worker only has to worry about spilled coffee no matter what color shirt they wear.
On a deeper level though, the divide between blue-collar and white-collar has always entailed differences in their levels of education, income, and their social status with issues of race and gender not far behind. Historically, white-collar workers have been on the higher end of all these indicators, enjoying careers as lawyers, accountants, and the like. Blue-collar workers less so. However, these generalizations never applied 100% of the time and are no longer that accurate in today’s economy.
So in 2017, this is sometimes a difference without a distinction. For instance, office interns are certainly white-collar workers, but they don’t enjoy much in the way of income or social status. The same goes for the current surplus of lawyers, professors without tenure, and many others who have seen their benefits and career prospects dwindle in a crowded and very educated labor market that’s concentrated in major cities where your barista might have a graduate degree. Likewise, blue-collar work is fast becoming more technically sophisticated than it once was as well as more susceptible to automation like in the case of coal miners. The result, in both cases, is more people struggling to find work.
Strangely enough, even our proposals for economic progress still show a lingering blue-collar / white-collar schism. Becoming a successful entrepreneur, for example, comes with definite white-collar social status. Meanwhile, one widely discussed idea is to retrain blue-collar workers to become computer programmers. The irony of this being computer programmers perform no physical labor whatsoever. However, they might work long hours writing code, while wearing t-shirts or Mark Zuckerberg style hoodies and drinking Red Bulls. That’s a big change from the days of the assembly line. Another proposal is to retrain blue-collar workers so that they can make up for labor shortages in the healthcare field, becoming nurses, technicians, and physicians assistants. The difficulty here is trying to make largely female professions appealing to people used to male-dominated industries. Fortunately for everyone, hospital scrubs come in blue.
By David Michael Newstead.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present chronicles fifty years of social progress for women in the United States, measured across economics, politics, and American culture and is reinforced with personal stories from our recent past. In fact, it’s the personal stories that help connect us to those events, which may seem like ancient history for some people but are within the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents. A few excerpts stood out to me in particular and I share those below to illustrate the stark differences between the world of 1960 and the world of today.
Other interesting topics covered in the book include the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the Women’s Liberation movement, and the life of Jeannette Rankin. Likewise, the reader can observe changes overtime through the effects of Roe v. Wade, how divorce proceedings were conducted, and the growing education attainment as well as workforce participation by American women. Skip ahead to the present and women are 47 percent of the workforce, 55 percent of college students, and 15 percent of active-duty military personnel: all watershed developments from a historical standpoint. And while many of the excerpts above probably wouldn’t take place in 2017, it’s important not to downplay the challenges on the horizon. Today’s progress took decades. Confronting misogyny will take even longer. And the next fifty years of women’s history has yet to be written.
By Binyamin Appelbaum.
Popular ideas about the working class are woefully out of date. Here are nine people who tell a truer story of what the American work force does today — and will do tomorrow.
Forget the images of men in hard hats standing before factory gates, of men with coal-blackened faces, of men perched high above New York City on steel beams. The emerging face of the American working class is a Hispanic woman who has never set foot on a factory floor. That’s not the kind of work much of the working class does anymore. Instead of making things, they are more often paid to serve people: to care for someone else’s children or someone else’s parents; to clean another family’s home.
The decline of the old working class has meant both an economic triumph for the nation and a personal tribulation for many of the workers. Technological progress has made American farms and factories more productive than ever, creating great wealth and cutting the cost of food and most other products. But the work no longer requires large numbers of workers. In 1900, factories and farms employed 60 percent of the work force. By 1950, a half-century later, those two sectors employed 36 percent. In 2014, they employed less than 10 percent.
For more than a century, since the trend was first documented, people have been prophesying a dire future in which the working class would no longer work. In 1964, a group of prominent liberals wrote President Johnson to warn of a “cybernation revolution” inexorably creating “a permanent impoverished and jobless class established in the midst of potential abundance.”
Machines have taken the jobs of millions of Americans, and there is every indication that the trend will continue. In October, Budweiser successfully tested a self-driving truck by delivering beer more than 120 miles to a warehouse in Colorado. In December, Amazon opened a small convenience store near its Seattle headquarters that has no cashiers. Customers — for now, Amazon employees only — are billed automatically as they leave the store. In January, Bank of America opened branches in Denver and Minneapolis that are staffed by a lone employee, A.T.M.s and video terminals. And Americans are making a growing share of purchases online: about 8.4 percent of retail sales in 2016. These changes are driven by consumer preferences, not just by corporate cost-cutting imperatives. People like shopping in bed in the middle of the night. People like that computers make fewer mistakes. And people grow accustomed to computers. A few years ago, I watched a woman walk up to a bank teller and ask where she could find an A.T.M. The teller asked if she could help. No, the woman said, she just needed to withdraw some money.
But the forecasters were wrong in the most important respect. Workers continue to find work, but now the jobs are in service. Taking care of aging baby boomers, in particular, has become by far the largest driver of job growth in the American economy. Among the occupations the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow most rapidly over the next decade: physical-therapy assistants, home health aides, occupational-therapy assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational-therapy aides, physician assistants. … You get the idea. Nine of the 12 fastest-growing fields are different ways of saying “nurse.”
By David Michael Newstead.
In the last month, there have been several news stories about beards. The most prominent of which concerns Sikh and Muslim Americans in the military. After years of debate, the U.S. Army is now allowing greater religious accommodations to grow beards as required by some faiths. It’s worth pointing out, however, that strict anti-beard policies were only instituted by the U.S. military in the 1980s. Prior to that, Sikh Americans in particular served in both World Wars fully bearded.
In related news, the NYPD took similar steps to ease restrictions on beards, which affect Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim officers on the force.
By David Michael Newstead.
Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent book, Men Without Work, is a wealth of information that highlights how the percentage of working age men participating in the U.S. workforce has been steadily decreasing for decades. Eberstadt explores the scope of this phenomenon by the numbers and includes a range of charts and graphs without being hyperbolic or overtly political. Even so, his findings if accurate have widespread political, social, and economic implications that are already being felt.
How significant is this? On page 4, Eberstadt writes:
How big is the “men without work” problem today? Consider a single fact: in 2015, the work rate (or employment-to-population ratio) for American males ages twenty-five-to-fifty-four was slightly lower than it had been in 1940, which was at the tail end of the Great Depression.
He goes on to say:
Here, then, is the underlying contraction of economic life in America’s second Gilded Age: A period of what might at best be described as indifferent economic growth has somehow produced markedly more wealth for its wealth-holders and markedly less work for its workers.
More than anything, the book is a detailed examination about what factors are contributing to this decrease and, in a very limited sense, what could be done to address it. But there is no one single answer offered up nor can this decrease (according to the data) be attributed to increased immigration, women’s entry into the workforce, men going to school full-time, men retiring, or comparisons across industrialized countries. Instead, it seems to be a convergence of social and economic factors that may be impacting male-dominated industries first, but not exclusively. So, increased automation is one issue. Levels of educational attainment are another. But it gets more complicated when the role of race and felony convictions are added to the discussion. And Eberstadt spends considerable time on this subject.
If America’s felon population continued to grow at the same pace as the 2004-10 period, we would expect that total to surpass 23 million persons by the end of 2016 at the latest. America’s population of noninstitutionalized adults with a felony conviction somewhere in their past will almost certainly exceed 20 million by the end of 2016 – and the current total for men within this group could now exceed 17 million, or 13 percent of all male adults in America.
At the end of the day, I believe that appreciating that our growing new class of men without work looks to be disproportionately composed of people with a tangled history of criminal justice system encounters will put us on a better path to dealing with their work problems, which also happens to be ours.