Commentary

What Kind of Jobs Are We Talking?

Posted by tbaker |

By Terrah Baker

I hear a lot about jobs in our economy. “There are no jobs. There are new jobs. These jobs are good. These jobs suck. We need more jobs!”

Most recently, I attended an informative session held by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas on the possibilities for green, renewable energy, home retrofitting jobs. As well-researched and informative as it was, I left with concerns even for jobs that would be helping us move into our future of healthy environmental stewardship.
As an American and someone who has navigated the work force in the last several years, I know the problems the middle class faces. Few full-time jobs, jobs with few-to-no benefits and pay staying the same while prices of goods continue to rise.

So, when ASC members talked to a crowd of about 50 last week at the Jones Center in Springdale on the importance of energy legislation for putting back a work force largely unemployed since the housing market bust, I was skeptical. Yes, making energy-efficient changes to homes and implementing green-energy technology would put the construction and trade sector back to work, but what is the quality of the jobs we’re talking about? Who will regulate that energy companies aren’t taking advantage of green technologies for personal gain while leaving worker compensation by the wayside? How do we know profit won’t trump pay?

It’s not the ASC or people fighting for green-energy jobs I’m picking on. I’m right there with them in their demands! But like most of us, they have little control over where the market is headed.

The truth is without change in our Legislature and collective mindset about the roles of corporations in our society, our world might get greener, but with no middle class — or a struggling middle class — only the wealthiest and privileged Americans will be enjoying the benefits.

Back in August, the Huffington Post reported on a study that showed jobs that could sustain a middle-class lifestyle are disappearing. What’s in their place? Low-wage jobs with no benefits and few chances for growth.

“Three-fifths of all jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, while roughly three-fifths of new jobs created during the economic recovery pay low wages,” the study by the National Employment Law Project stated.

This is because of many factors, including more than 400,000 government jobs being lost, along with changes in other industries.

For instance, food services and retail (both historically low-paying industries) have remained strong, while better-paying industries have failed to recover or have gone overseas, or put more work on fewer people or, worst of all, raised their profit margins while lowering pay.

“The median retail worker gets paid $11 per hour, the median food service worker gets paid $10 per hour and the median waiter or waitress gets paid just $7.69 per hour,” according to the study.

That’s barely a living wage, and with the standards continuing to be lowered, corporations no longer feel they have to share their wealth, good fortune and profit with the employees that make it possible. On a side note, and in the meantime, the government must subsidize such low wages with welfare programs (another example of the corporations being subsidized, despite how indirect).

“While low-wage and high-wage jobs have grown since the beginning of 2001, mid-wage jobs have plunged over the past decade, according to the study. There also has long been downward pressure on wages in mid- and low-wage jobs, with those jobs’ median real wages falling since 2001. Meanwhile, the median real wages of high-wage jobs spiked during the same time period,” the article states.

Bottom line — we need to get rid of the bottom line. In this new era of predicted human enlightenment, I hope our first move as a nation and civilization is to once again recognize the human factor over profit and personal gain. We need to acknowledge corporations aren’t humans and have means to take advantage of situations individuals do not, and last time I checked America was running for the benefit of the individuals that make it up.

The “Free Market” is an illusion that is causing us all harm. We must recognize a regulated market as the only way to properly support the future of the middle class and our environment.

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