Why Some Jobs Matter

A week or two ago, Paul Krugman published an article titled “Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?” in which he explored the different narratives behind the decline of mining and manufacturing jobs and the decline of retail jobs. He tried very hard to avoid focusing on the sexist and classist snobbery behind the difference. To some degree, losing low paying jobs that frequently lack benefits is not as bad as losing decently paying jobs that include health benefits and pensions (although court ruling that allow companies to raid pension plans for operating cash basically rendered pension plans an empty promise).

All jobs don’t matter in public discourse because people lack respect for the retail, cell center, hospitality, etc staffs with which they directly interact. Mining and manufacturing jobs were afforded this mythos because the majority of people never interact with these employees. A sentiment echoed today in a newsletter from Sherrod Brown’s office:

“I heard from those miners and their families in Steubenville. I talked with them, and heard their stories – stories of years of backbreaking, dangerous work, but work that had dignity. They put in their time to earn better lives for their families, and they deserve the full health care and pensions they were promised.”

“Work that had dignity”!? And calling out that they “put in their time to earn better lives for their families”!? I hope he didn’t intend to imply that all of these other sectors lack dignity and working in them are not actually attempts to earn better lives for a family too. I wish they would at least pretend to care about all of the non-white non-male people who are losing their jobs too (hey, politicians … white dudes are probably losing non-mining and non-manufacturing jobs too … if that helps you care).

Fifty years ago, a high school graduate knew he could show up at the GE Locomotive plant in Erie, PA and have a job for life. And the downfall of American manufacturing has eliminated that path. But women in the same city knew they could show up at the GTE office on the other side of town, get hired on in operator services, and have a job for life too. They, too, no longer have such certainty (nor can they be positive that either GE or Verizon are even hiring).

Not a lot of people grow up dreaming of being a sales clerk or fast food counter worker – but I doubt people dream of being an entry level manufacturing line worker either. People enter into the field and work their way up — and, yeah, “working you way up” in the steel plant involved a lot of physical work whereas becoming a low level manager at a store or a call center team lead involved a lot of time and mental effort.

It’s not a job – it’s a period in time associated with the job. When coal powered industrial revolutions, white men had power and everyone else knew their place. Sadly, failure to bring back the “good” manufacturing and mining jobs may not doom Trump to perceived failure so long as his policies punish non-white non-male people.

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