13 March 2016

What to Do About Working Class Resentment of Government Programs

What should we do about working class resentment of government programs? Be fair. We should invest as much in the careers of the working class as we do the careers of knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers are doing pretty well in the US. The unemployment rate for engineers and programmers is close to zero and corporations compete for Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths (STEM) graduates with things like valet parking (seen here at Google's Mountain View campus).
Big data is now a thing and by some reports, the leaders in this field are commanding NFL quarterback range salary packages.

It's not just that knowledge workers have it pretty good in 2016. The community around them has invested heavily in their success. From kindergarten to the world's most reputable public universities, knowledge workers are beneficiaries of extensive public support. Additionally, many of the great breakthroughs that have created the fields they work in are the product of government initiatives. Aviation, satellites, computing, the internet, genomes, and particle physics are all areas that have been heavily funded by government programs. Industries and their employees are beneficiaries of government programs that have helped to develop these fields.

By contrast, the working class have not much benefited from government programs. For them, government first forced them into schools that didn't much seem accommodating to their way of thinking, then taxed them in their jobs in order to fund programs that would benefit the above mentioned knowledge workers and then signed trade agreements that shipped their jobs overseas, leaving them to stock shelves at a Walmart that sold products made overseas for half the pay they'd made before.

It's good and proper that we've invested in knowledge workers. The world is better when we have apps that make it easy to find a new address or a medical procedure that lets us heal more quickly. That's not the problem. The problem is that making these investments in fields that benefit only knowledge workers is unfair.

It is not just that we need a more developed career development track for folks whose talents and interests won't take them into STEM careers. There should be parity. It doesn't matter if you are in retail or robotics, there are certain things that will make you more productive. Those things can be taught. And given those things will make employees more profitable and lead to higher wages, it is irresponsible to ignore those investment opportunities.

It may not sound as exciting to fund research and development for retail as it does to fund R&D for robotics, but retail sales will continue to be a huge part of our economy. It's not just fair to invest in every level of worker in this economy. It's good policy. Median wages don't go up until the person who makes less than half of workers - and more than the other half - sees her income rise. Right now, the median worker is not a STEM graduate and is unlikely to be for a long time.

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