Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Competing for Good Jobs Made Artificially Scarce by Big Corporations

Why is it getting so hard to find a good job? Why is it so expensive to get a college degree?

The answer is not complicated or mysterious. The people at the top of our increasingly unequal society--the corporate elite--want it to be that way. They make it so that good jobs are artificially scarce and ordinary people have to compete against each other for them. In an unequal society like ours, the most important concern of the people at the top is staying in control, lest ordinary people turn the tables and make things more equal and democratic. The more that people are made to compete against each other, the easier it is to control them.

Consider some numbers. The per capita income in Massachusetts in 2005 was $44,289. That means that the total income was the same as if every man, woman and child had $44,289 income. Think about what this means. It means that if every person living alone had an income of $44,289, and every couple with no children had an income of $88,578, and every couple with one child had an income of $132,867, and every couple with two children had an income of $177,156, and every couple with three children had an income of $221,445, etc. ($44,289 times the number of people in the family), then the total income for everybody combined would be not a penny more than what the total income actually was in 2005.

So how come most families have incomes way below these numbers? Only one reason--our society is very unequal. Some families of, say, four members, have incomes much higher than $177,156, while the rest make do with far less. Actually, the inequality is far more extreme than what is suggested by these numbers because wealth (homes, yachts, shares in stocks, jewelry etc.), as opposed to income, is distributed even more unequally. According to Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at New York University who studies this topic, the top 5 percent own more than half of all wealth in the United States.

Consider what a good job looks like from the point of view of the big corporations. A good job is one that pays a fairly high wage or salary and provides a good benefits package. In other words, it's a big expense. What's a CEO to do? The answer is obvious. Either use technology to automate the job so that it can be done by somebody with less skill who will work for less pay, or outsource the job to a foreign country like India or China or Mexico where even a skilled employee will do the work for far less pay. Any CEO who doesn't use these strategies would be considered incompetent by the company's board of directors and major share-owners.

Result? Good jobs are made scarce. No matter how much education we get, we just end up competing with each other for fewer and fewer good jobs.

As good jobs get more scarce, people are forced to acquire more and more credentials to get one of them. In the past one didn't need a college degree to get a good job. Now you're out of the running without one. On-the-job training used to be the way people learned the skills needed for a good job. Nowadays you need a college degree just to get a low-paying job caring for toddlers at a day care center. The more people are forced to compete for good jobs, the more they are forced to pay whatever colleges charge to get a degree. No wonder the price of a college degree is rising.

But there's more to it than that. As good jobs become more and more scarce, the people at the top need to make sure that the ones who fail to get a good job blame themselves, not the system. That's why we're always told that "getting an education is the key to success." The message is that if you're smart and study hard you'll do well, and if you don't do well it's only because you're not smart or you didn't study hard--it's your own fault. That's why good jobs that didn't used to require a college degree now do. It's to make sure that fewer people consider themselves "qualified" for the job.

But if college degrees were so affordable that everybody could get one, then everybody would think they were qualified for a good job, and the scarcity of good jobs would lead to social unrest and anger at those responsible for their scarcity. Solution? Make college expensive enough so that not too many people can get a degree. That is why students are having to rely more and more on going deep into debt to pay for college, and why the government is not subsidizing these education costs as it could do very easily if it wanted to.

The root of the problem is that in our society real power is in the hands of a corporate elite instead of ordinary people. The problem is that we don't have real democracy. Go here to see what you can do about this.


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