“Our” Jobs

Our jobs are being taken by foreigners. Our jobs are being sent overseas.

I hear statements like those a lot. There is a lot of fear, anxiety and anger in the air these days over the loss of “our” jobs.

I get it. My sympathy and loyalty is with the so-called working class–my people–, who are having the economic rug pulled out from under their feet by the “new” economy. Lots of folks who once held manufacturing or mining jobs that could support a family, for example, are now left scrambling for much lower paying jobs and seeing their middle class dreams vanish. I just read that in West Virginia over half of adult population is unemployed. One man featured in the story lost his $28/hour job as coal miner and is now working for $11/hour in a pawn shop. He lost his home and he and his family had to move in with his mother. And he was one of the lucky ones. Of course this isn’t just a problem in West Virginia.

Since the Civil War, the dominant industry and principal employer in our community was a textile mill. But the mill is history now–just abandoned buildings. Once the largest cotton mill in the world–and the economic hub of our community–the company finally gave up the ghost in 2006. It just couldn’t compete in the new global marketplace, where labor is much cheaper in developing nations.

So thousands of “our” jobs went overseas. But how did they come to be “our” jobs in the first place?

When Dan River Mill was founded in 1882 there were already plenty of textile mills in the U.S. They were predominantly in New England. But the impoverished South had something to offer that New England didn’t–lots of poor people willing to work for very low wages. In fact, the wages paid at Dan River Mills were 30-50% lower than the wages paid at New England mills. The lower cost of labor enabled Dan River to thrive and grow, driving the New England mills out of existence, costing their employees their jobs and destroying the economies of their towns. That’s just how the system works. Dog eat dog.

So when “our” jobs (jobs that paid the bills for many of my friends and family) went to Mexico, India and China, it should not have been surprising. That’s what industrialism does–it seeks out the cheapest possible labor, then moves on when it discovers people who are willing to sell their labor even cheaper.

And this is why it is foolish to stake our economic future on manufacturing and industrialism.

Our community’s elected leaders continue to promise that they are going to bring industry to our town. But why would “industry” come here, to a mainly rural and not highly educated community? There would only be one reason–cheap labor. So the only thing we have to offer to “industry” is a poor population willing to work for low wages. That is not a path to prosperity.

Meanwhile we are surrounded by some of the best farmland in the word, and most of our community dutifully goes to the grocery store every week to buy food grown (or more often manufactured) thousands of miles away.

Maybe it’s time to make our jobs be truly OUR jobs.

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36 comments on ““Our” Jobs

  1. El Guapo says:

    Nah. Easier to blame everyone else.

    /sarcasm

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    • Bill says:

      I can understand that feeling. I feel really bad for good hardworking people whose hopes and dreams have been destroyed. It creates a dangerous and unsettling climate, which we have to navigate carefully.

      Good to hear from you again EG.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said., Bill.

    Like

  3. Susan says:

    I readily agree that just providing our own food puts a huge dent in the costs of living in this new economy. If it weren’t for my big garden, well, we’d get by–buy it wouldn’t be the HIGH quality, good organic stuff I’ve grown (pun INtended) to love.

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    • Bill says:

      For most of my working life I was oblivious to the cost of food. Cherie handled the household budget and I had no idea how much we spent on food. When I found out I was shocked. I literally had no idea how much of a typical household budget is spent on food. We now spend very little on food, and we eat better than we ever have.

      Like

  4. Scott says:

    Good one Bill. I’ve got two gripes:
    Remembering how it used to be, and hanging on those memories is not going to get you anywhere. I’ve got three clips of quotes on my desk. 1) “This is your task today: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.” 2) “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in those moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” 3) simply “IT STILL IS.”, as in, remember when you were a kid filled with wonder and the world was yours? Well, it still is.
    Second gripe: Throw the word “deserve” out the window. Completely. It is incredibly freeing to learn how much you can do without. Such a sense of independence and freedom.
    Thanks Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Scott, about “deserving” a job… I would just say that no one deserves to have the job – that they’ve taken as many cuts on, in order to supposedly be able to keep said job – and then have the rug yanked out from underneath, because they’re not “competitive”… How can anyone, who doesn’t require an insulated home to protect them from the weather, be called competition, is beyond me. Wasn’t it HENRY Ford who priced his vehicles so employees could afford to buy one? Who’s going to buy all of this low quality Off-Shore crap if, with the pay from jobs available, they can’t even afford to eat? Growing your own food has become a necessity, not a luxury.

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      • Scott says:

        Hey, Deb, sorry I wasnt very clear. Things always make more sense in my head than when I write them. I was referring to deserving “things”, not to whether or not anyone deserved a job. I basically pointed my life comment a little off topic, about a person dealing with a job loss rather than the politics/decision of say, closing a plant for moving overseas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bill says:

        You’ve hit on the thing that I find most perplexing about the elimination of the working class. If they eliminate human labor to save money, they eliminate the jobs of millions, perhaps billions, of people. If humans are left without jobs, then how will they have the money to buy the cheaply produced crap? We’re lurching toward a strange new world.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Short term gain for “Who gives a crap, as long as I get while the getting’s good?” Hasn’t that always been the way for the Entitled…
        I will take (resource x), reap my profits and leave behind my mess for someone else to clean up/ or live with. “Oh, and I’ll also take that low-paying job with me, when I go, thank you very much!”
        Don’t get me wrong, not everyone has a total lack of morality; but it seems that it’s becoming more prevalent – or more atrocious, at the very least. So, which is it: societal pressure’s not enough anymore, or there are just too many people spread amongst too many fires…

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    • Bill says:

      Excellent comment Scott. Resonates powerfully with me. I especially appreciate the second quote. I can affirm that it was my deeply unhappy and unfulfilling time as an attorney that caused me to step out of my rut and start searching for different ways and truer answers. I took my sweet time about it, but in the end I think what I did was quite radical. Certainly it went deeply against the grain of what culture tells us to do. And I was bad about “remembering how it used to be and hanging on those memories.” I romanticized my childhood and imagined a happy (but distant) future, while grumbling through and unhappy professional life (even though it was giving me all the material rewards that society says should make me happy). It was incredibly liberating to step away from it. And we’ve discovered the truth of what you write–much of what society tells us we need, we can comfortably do without. I totally agree with you about the sense of independence and freedom. Our experience has been that we can live a very satisfying life on very little income, as long as we stay debt-free. Wendell Berry says “We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do.” Those are wise words I think.

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    • Sorry Scott, that was just me shooting from the hip.): and taken out of context from the whole of your comment (which I almost totally agree with; ).
      Sometimes, when people hit bottom, options are limited and they’re just stuck there, bottom-feeding, bumping your nose on the glass and endlessly circling the drain… Options are a luxury.

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  5. Every week when I go to the grocery store I see higher and higher prices,, I’m old now but each year my garden gets bigger to help feed us. When I’, too old to garden I think I won’t be able to eat well at all 😦

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  6. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, throw in robotics and automation and the labor that is needed to manufacture anything is dwindling. As the population grows the needed labor force is shrinking. Blue collar jobs that provide a living are disappearing. I have concerns that the year ahead are filled with economic troubles. I most likely won’t affect me as I won’t be here long enough to feel the full effect but my grandson will. It’s hard to imagine what life will be like 50 years down the road when he is my age. Migration back to country living might be the only way of survival in the future. Pristine lawns perhaps will be gardens. We can only hope that solutions arise before chaos.

    Have a great jobs day.

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    • Bill says:

      My thoughts exactly Dave. I only recently became aware of the robotics/automation revolution that is occurring now. It is mind boggling and will dramatically change the world as we know it over the next few years.

      I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading about the changing economy and wondering about what it means for the working class (I intensely dislike that term, but don’t know a better one). The reality is that technology is rapidly making human labor obsolete. What then is to become of us? My best guess is that we’re going to end up with a permanently unemployed or underemployed lower class, which will be kept alive with some sort of guaranteed minimum income. That class will benefit from the technological advances and their lives will be better than any lower class in history, but the rest of society will benefit far more, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

      It seems vitally important to me that working-class people focus as much as possible on self-reliance, if they want to avoid a life of permanent dependence. The reality of course is that plenty of people will willingly give up their work in exchange for a life that doesn’t require work. One study I saw said 90% of people would quit their jobs if they were guaranteed the same income for life without working. But I wonder what kind of life that will be. One commentator I heard compared it to being put on an Indian reservation.

      I don’t know where we’re headed, but I’m convinced that for those of us who value meaningful work, we need to return to our agrarian roots.

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  7. valbjerke says:

    I can’t imagine a day when all those jobs come back from overseas – foreign labor is too cheap. The jeans most of us put on in the morning were stitched together by someone who made five cents to do so. I’ve always felt as though consumerism is at fault – by demanding/wanting more and expecting quality for less and less, we created part of the problem ourselves. We can now purchase things for so cheap it doesn’t even need to be quality – you simply buy another item for cheaper yet and throw out the old broken item.
    I ran into this very issue the other day when I went to pick up ink for my printer and discovered I could buy a new printer (with more features) for far less than the price of the ink I needed. 😖
    I think people have forgotten how to live simply, forgotten how to appreciate what they already have. Living with less income can be done – but many (not all) people are so focused on what they can’t have anymore, they’ve no energy left to see that what they already have, is probably enough.
    I feel for families with children – when I see the price of food in the grocery, I’m baffled as to how they can afford to feed themselves – though the ever increasing line-ups at the food banks probably explains some of the solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Cherie works as a volunteer at our local food bank and she sees the people who come in wearing their fast food worker uniforms, and the people who used to be volunteers but now come in for food. The number of people relying on food banks and (in the US) federal food assistance keep going up every year. The upper class and upper middle class continues to grow at unprecedented rates, but LOTS of people are being left behind.

      Still, I think our ancestors, even a generation back, would be baffled. There are so many luxuries that we have come to believe are necessities.

      Years ago I read Bill McKibben’s book Deep Economy. It made so much sense to me. He acknowledged that capitalism had eliminated a tremendous amount of human suffering and made the world a much better place. But the system doesn’t know when to say “enough.” So we keep the pedal to the floor and it becomes necessary to fabricate demand for things we don’t really need. And all too often we buy those things with credit cards. That kind of system is unsustainable. He argues convincingly that now we need to slow down, consume less, and cultivate resilient local economies. I think he’s absolutely correct about that.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. ain't for city gals says:

    I don’t think the younger generation even thinks about those jobs anymore…that is if they ever did. As for us older ones the only answer is simplify simplify simplify and good luck to us. However, maybe people should live together…that would certainly be one answer…to share. But no one seems to want to…we are all still so spoiled. I honestly have no idea what is going to happen in the near future.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m a die-hard optimist, so I prefer to imagine a good future. But I admit to having serious concerns about what will happen to the working class backbone of our society.

      Whatever the future may hold, I completely agree with the value of simplification. Every year it seems we find ways to simplify that I wouldn’t have thought possible the year before. Maybe we’re just getting a head start on something we’ll all being done soon enough–like it or not.

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  9. Laura says:

    Great perspective. I had not thought of job outsourcing in that way.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s something my wife and I were discussing recently. She pointed out that the textile mill jobs have always moved around chasing cheap labor. Often what we think of as “our” jobs, only became our jobs at the expense of someone else.

      Like

  10. I suspect we haven’t seen anything yet in comparison to the jobs that will be lost as more and more robots come on line, Bill. Throw in AI and who can begin to imagine what the world will look like 50 years from now. Certainly assembly line production, mining, and large scale farming operations will go the way of the horse and buggy. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      I think you’re absolutely right. Automation and robotics are eliminating human jobs in everything from cashiers to anesthesiologists. Many of the jobs we take for granted today are about to go the way of the gas station attendant and the elevator operator.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow Bill, “90% would give up working for a guaranteed income”? Wondering whom did they study (and who provided funding)? Job Satisfaction is the most important thing to most people and liking your co-worker’s was next on the list in a study I recall seeing… No one (who knows differently) wants to be given “something for nothing”. Society’s advancement comes from accomplishment and the ensuing feelings of satisfaction. This is in our DNA. How many books have been written about dystopic societies and the overwhelming desire to escape them?

    Re automation: see “Roger and Me”, Michael Moore’s first documentary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_%26_Me)
    Re “cheap” goods from overseas… I was taught that the key to having a successful business is producing a product that needs to be bought over and over again – like hamburgers or clothes hangers. It used to be be that big ticket items would last long enough to defray the initial investment and, even when/ or if they ever needed repair, new parts could be installed… These days – and Val’s comment about printer cartridges is a prime case in point – replacement parts are either totally unavailable or incredibly expensive cost for total junk. The Bakelite handle for my gas range being a perfect example of this: I wound up using epoxy to glue it back together, rather than pay 150$ for an aftermarket replacement that was 1/3 the weight of the OEM part.
    “Waste not, want not.” “Buy the best quality that you can afford; and, if you take care of it, it should last you a lifetime.” “Treat others as you would be treated.” but, at the same time “Respect is earned, not simply deserved.”… These are the things I was taught. These are things that I believe should be true.
    Sorry for running on, but this is a subject that runs deep

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    • Bill says:

      That 90% number comes from a podcast I listened to recently. So I can’t guarantee it’s accuracy, but it isn’t surprising to me. Another number I saw: experts predict that 47% of all existing jobs will be eliminated by automation/robotics over the next 20 years.

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      • Well, if that’s the case, then all the more reason to become a self-sufficient maker of some sort, right?: )
        Weavers, basket-makers and potters… All of the old Trades that people used to take pride in: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, took and die makers. Automation be damned. There are lots of occupations where the human mind rules; robotics are for brainless repetition…

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  12. Well said Bill.. 🙂 Well said

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  13. Zachary says:

    I think industrial robots are getting the short end of the stick here. While further industrialization may be leading to lower jobs, they may actually be one of the few things limiting the outsourcing. Goods are made not only with labor, but with capital(factories, robots, etc) as well. Workers are hired based on whether or not they can produce more than they cost. When humans are working alongside more capital(robots) they can produce more, and thus will be more likely to be hired, and at a higher wage rate. America is lucky in that it is a very wealthy country, and has significant technological and industrial advantages. I would argue, that without these industrial robots, we would see even more jobs shipped over seas because there would be greater returns to cheaper labor.

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    • Bill says:

      Interesting perspective Zachary, and thanks for sharing it. I read recently (in Forbes I think) that experts are forecasting that 48% of existing American jobs will be eliminated by automation over the next 20 years, and that includes everything from cashiers to anesthesiologists. Hopefully we’ll transition to a new economy that will include employment for all those folks, but it’s got me a little worried.

      Like

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