Some Massachusetts Institute of Technology MBA students were blown away by the stories they recently heard from graduates of a local community college:
One young graduate told how he dropped out of high school and drifted for a couple years before becoming an Army Ranger and then, with the help of the GI Bill, and good army counselors, got his “second chance” at school by enrolling in the community college. He graduated and is pursuing a four-year college degree.
In the last decade, we’ve lost millions of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing. According to U.S. News and World Report, there are now 5.1 million fewer American manufacturing jobs than in 2001. The lure of low wages, tax advantages, and other cost savings has made for a seemingly straightforward calculus, and manufacturer after manufacturer, supported by intricate spreadsheets, has abandoned ship, until offshoring has become the emerging mantra of the new millennium. U.S. companies that still manufactured locally have slowly become outliers.
Interestingly, this dynamic now seems to be changing, as we’re beginning to see more manufacturing in the U.S. Total output from American manufacturing relative to gross domestic product is back to pre-recession levels, with more than half a million new jobs. According to the Reshoring Initiative, 15% of this job growth results from reshoring alone. There are many reasons for this shift back to the U.S.
Late last month, President Barack Obama took a step around the longstanding congressional gridlock over labor and employment policies by announcing a plan to boost the salary threshold governing overtime from US$23,600 to $50,440 and to index it to inflation.
Essentially, that means white collar workers in that salary range, currently exempt from being paid overtime, would get 1.5 times their hourly wages for anything over 40 hours.
The administration estimates this action will extend coverage to an additional five million workers who will either receive overtime pay or work fewer hours at the same salary, with some of their extra work shifted to part- or full-time hourly workers. Either way, the workforce and the economy will record a small win in efforts to raise wages and reduce income inequality.
I’ve been immersed in this issue for decades, including as a member of the Clinton administration’s Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relations in the early ‘90s and as codirector of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.
To reduce the persistently high unemployment rate in the United States, Congress should move to relax some of our current constraints on immigration.
This is a controversial idea because many people are under the impression that allowing in more immigrants would push up unemployment. But that would only be the case if the number of jobs in the US were an unchanging constant. Read More »
[Question] How did you get interested in researching long-term unemployment? What motivated you to write your book and start the Institute for Career Transitions (ICT)?
[Professor Sharone] I got interested in this issue as a graduate student. I was doing a PhD in Sociology at UC Berkeley, and my initial research was actually about high-tech workers and long work hours. But at the time I was doing this research, the dot.com bubble burst around the year 2000. What was very surprising to me and to the people who got caught up in it more directly (that is, the workers), was the number of people who had done everything that society told them you need to do to be successful–they went to college, they sometimes had masters degrees or PhD degrees, and years of working experience. And yet these individuals saw themselves unemployed and sometimes unable to get to any job for months and sometimes for years.
This was all around me as a graduate student, and even though it was not yet as big or brutal a national event as came later with the Great Recession, being in the Bay Area during this time was an early experience of what was to later come in 2008. So this is how I got into the issue, and I began doing interviews of unemployed individuals. I’m a qualitative sociologist, so I do in-depth interviews with people. I began asking people about the experience of job searching, how they understood the obstacles they faced, and I came to realize that looking for work is a kind of work in itself, and it’s probably among the hardest kinds of work that exist. It’s extremely emotionally difficult–it’s essentially straight up rejection. And I was very interested in how people felt with that, and in documenting some of the pain and hardship that people described to me.
I also became interested in comparing the experience of unemployed job seekers cross-nationally. My research became driven by the question, “Is what I’m seeing among American white-collar professionals universal for similar types of workers?” That question lead to my book, Flawed System, Flawed Self, which is a cross-national comparison of the experience of job searching and unemployment for this group of highly educated, skilled workers. I learned in the process how actually very different that experience can be–the sense of self-blame, and the emotional toll can be very different depending on how one needs to look for work.