[Homestead] Rewarding unskilled labor in service industries
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Sep 6 15:29:59 EDT 2004
tvoivozhd---Unions can be revived, minimum wages can be raised to the
point where hard work pays the rent, puts food on the table, Universal
healthcare and a surplus to get ahead in the world. No big deal, it was
done for the manufacturing sector which the politicians stupidly
exported to China. It is easily done for the service sector which
cannot be exported---and which can provide the economic base for
reconstituting the manufacturing sector in the United States. We cannot
take in each others washing and prosper.
I never had any difficulty or much expense in training totally unskilled
workers in any of my factories---it is the responsibility of the
employer in a startup enterprise to break down the tasks to
quickly-learned elements---you can consolidate them after the unskilled
employees become more skilled. And I comfortably paid as much as three
times the local wage scale as promised when I needed exceptional
cooperation during startup, without the capital normally needed for
more equipment. High wages to people that produce your wealth is not
much of a problem if one good worker with a good head produces two or
three times as much as a poor worker---and you would be surprised how
many poor workers become such good workers, given sufficient incentive
and such on-the-job training as necessary. Pitney Bowes has no
difficulty in rewarding intelligent employees who make them exceptional
amounts of money---often making millionaires of such employees at annual
meetings acknowledging their accomplishment. Contrast that with the
poor sonofabitch who invented the computer mouse and got the magnificent
sum of $10,000 for his efforts.
*Rewarding 'Unskilled' Workers*
By Beth Shulman
Monday, September 6, 2004; Page A23
Too many workers lack skills, declared Federal Reserve Chairman Alan
Greenspan in response to growing pay inequality and wage sluggishness.
This mantra -- that American workers simply aren't taking advantage of
training that will magically secure them well-paid jobs -- is appealing.
But is it really only workers' skills that need upgrading?
As Morgan Stanley's chief economist, Stephen Roach, recently pointed
out, from March to June, hiring in lower-end industries in our hourglass
economy has accounted for 44 percent of the workforce. Twenty-five
percent of our nation's workers earn less than $8.70 an hour (or $18,000
a year) before taxes or health insurance, which puts a family of four
under the federal poverty level. These low-wage jobs -- nursing aides,
security guards, teachers' assistants, janitors, home health aides,
retail sales and food preparation -- are among the country's
fastest-growing employment opportunities. Meanwhile, manufacturing and
service jobs that once provided a middle-class income for millions of
American families are disappearing. As Greenspan himself acknowledged,
people are having a hard time finding jobs that pay as much as the
Unfortunately, Greenspan's facile dismissal of low-wage jobs as
"unskilled" is a way to avoid acknowledging these essential jobs and the
men and women who perform them. It is a way of justifying their poverty
wages and meager benefits and blaming them for our failure to properly
In fact, skills are not the real problem. Today's workers have the
requisite skills for their jobs as child-care providers, nursing-home
aides, poultry processors and janitors. Without question, better
education and fluency in new technologies are essential to improving job
options for this and the next generation of working men and women.
People in virtually any position should receive training throughout
their careers to increase their opportunities for job and social mobility.
Yet these labor-intensive employers will continue to demand large
numbers of workers. They are not prospects for outsourcing, because the
jobs must be done in specific locations, face to face with patients or
customers. For the people who hold these jobs to be in a position to
support themselves and their families, the rewards of their jobs must be
Without improvement, the rising gap between the haves and the have-nots
will continue to grow, straining an already divided nation. A
forthcoming study from the Russell Sage Foundation shows that once the
income divide becomes entrenched, it is increasingly difficult for
workers and their families ever to break free. Falling incomes among the
poor make it more difficult for them to improve or escape from
underfunded public schools, limiting their chances for future success.
If work does not work for millions of Americans, it undermines our most
fundamental ideal: that if you work hard, you can support yourself and
your family. Consigning millions of Americans to dead-end, low-wage jobs
endangers the notion of equal opportunity.
A key to turning this around is understanding what made "good jobs"
good. There is nothing inherent in welding bumpers onto cars or
manufacturing steel girders that makes those better jobs than caring for
children or guarding office buildings. Workers organizing through
unions, and the passage of social legislation, raised wages and created
paid leave and health and retirement benefits in these initially "bad"
manufacturing jobs, changing them into good middle-class positions.
Fortunately, we can make choices as a society to make today's "bad" jobs
First, we can raise the minimum wage. Its earning power has not kept up
with inflation. Frozen at $5.15 an hour since 1997, its value is 30
percent less today than in 1968, leaving millions of workers and their
families well below the federal poverty line.
Second, we can clear the way for workers to unionize. Recent Labor
Department statistics show that, on average, unionized service jobs pay
nearly twice as much as nonunion service jobs. Compare the same
positions in hotel-casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. They vary by more than
$5 an hour, depending not on the skills of those who hold them but on
whether they are unionized.
Third, we can reward businesses that provide their employees a living
wage and basic benefits by offering taxpayer subsidies, contracts or grants.
Finally, we can provide access to health insurance for all Americans.
Workers in the growing low-wage service sector are the least likely to
get health insurance from their employers.
As a nation, we can decide to ensure that the people who protect and
help our families can support themselves and their loved ones by making
service jobs the good jobs of the 21st century. We must not simply label
certain jobs "unskilled" and sentence a quarter of our population to a
life of poverty just for doing their jobs.
/Beth Shulman, author of "The Betrayal of Work," is a spokeswoman for
the Russell Sage Foundation's project on social inequality./
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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