In the book (and now film) Moneyball, general manager Billy Beane transforms the Oakland Athletics by recognizing that overlooked players contribute value to a team. He overturns conventional wisdom, indeed upends baseball’s domination by wealthier teams,by using data to measure performance. What he learns can also apply to the economic challenges we face today.
When people think and write about what leads to economic success, they too often focus only on the most visible, highly paid players. In the case of the economy, it is the CEOs. The business press is full of praise for celebrity leaders such as Jack Welch and Steve Jobs. But even when the CEO is not movie-star famous, stories about whether a firm will succeed or fail usually focus on the personality and actions of the person at the top.
President Obama’s job plan has triggered lots of talk if not action. With the economy struggling, any conversation about job creation is good news. But from the President on down, we sometimes pay too much attention to the number of jobs being produced and not nearly enough attention to the quality of those jobs.
In Good Jobs America: Making Work Better for Everyone (Russell Sage Foundation), a book co-authored by me and Beth Shulman being released this month, we document how a very large percentage of American adults today work in jobs that pay at levels below what is needed for a decent standard of living.
The main focus of our book is to show how bad jobs can be made into good ones. We show that education is a necessary but not sufficient element in the solution, that the persistence of low wage work cannot be laid at the door of immigration, and that it is possible to improve job quality without negatively impacting economic growth.