Two articles caught my eye this past weekend. The first is an article from The Atlantic, “Making It In America.” Adam Davidson of NPR’s “Planet Money” team wrote it. I still find the team’s work on the financial crisis, first broadcast on This American Life in 2008, entitled “The Giant Pool of Money,” to be the most lucid explanation of the housing crisis I have yet heard. I still refer people who ask me how we got here to this podcast. Davidson’s thesis here on the shrinking of middle-class manufacturing jobs is also worth a read. He explains how, even though our manufacturing sector is producing a third more than a decade ago, employment has declined 30%. It is a combination of foreign competition and technological advances, and the jobs requiring little or no skills are quickly replaced by cheaper machines or workers in Poland or China who are willing to do the work more cheaply.
At bottom, from a higher ed perspective, the article supports the argument that people need higher skills to qualify for the increased sophistication of today’s jobs. At the same time, Davidson recognizes the challenges this presents. He contrasts Luke Hutchins, a 27 year old who is good at math who was able to spend two years in a technical program and five years getting on the job training, with Madelyn Parlier, who had to take an unskilled job after high school because she had a young child to take care of and could not take time off for school.
Davidson brings these any many issues to the surface. The article will provide nuanced insight into one aspect of the jobs crisis now confronting us.
For a broader read, and for insight into what the Reinvention team is studying these days, look at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce’s latest work, highlighted here on a NYTimes blog, “Want a Job? Go to College, and Don’t Major in Architecture.” The blogpost presents a few key charts from the article which highlight occupational employment rates and income. Read together, the charts tell the story that education majors have the lowest unemployment, but engineers make the most money. Biggest surprise to me was the high pay of social science majors, although that may be skewed by economists.