Trickle down economics didn’t work the last time it was tried to boost America’s economic fortunes by cutting taxes for the rich and corporations, then waiting for that spare change to find its way into the pockets of working folks downstream. But trickle down poverty works better.
Dawn Nasewicz comes from a family of steelworkers, with jobs that once dominated the local economy. She found her niche in retail. She manages a store, Ooh La La, that sells prom dresses and embroidered jeans at a local mall. But just as the jobs making automobile springs and rail anchors disappeared, local retail jobs are now vanishing.
“I need my income,” said Ms. Nasewicz, who was told that her store will close as early as August. “I’m 53. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
The problem isn’t complex. Unemployed customers are eventually forced to stop buying, particularly things that aren’t absolute necessities. So when the primary driver of a local economy folds or moves, it takes down the secondary economy as well. Forget Abe Maslow’s hierarchy; they need food on the table.
The latest Trump plan is retraining to fill the skill gap with an emphasis on apprenticeships. Wonder where he learned that word? It’s hardly an answer for most laid-off factory workers, and ignores the problems of structural unemployment and the absence of sufficient well-paying jobs to put all the warm bodies back to work, even if they have the skills. But at least it’s a step in the right direction, even if only a baby step.
Not to be outdone, there is the progressive solution to male former-factory worker joblessness, offered by the brilliant labor economist and New York Times gender editor, Susan Chira.
It seems like an easy fix. Traditionally male factory work is drying up. The fastest-growing jobs in the American economy are those that are often held by women. Why not get men to do them?
The “easy” solution to male factory worker unemployment is the pink ghetto? So what’s holding them back from that fulfilling and financially satisfying career?
The problem is that notions of masculinity die hard, in women as well as men. It’s not just that men consider some of the jobs that will be most in demand — in health care, education and administration — to be unmanly or demeaning, or worry that they require emotional skills they don’t have. So do some of their wives, prospective employers and women in these same professions.
Holy moly, the problem isn’t skills, or jobs.It’s toxic masculinity?
In the meantime, the jobs most in demand — like nursing and nurse assistants, home health care aides, occupational therapists or physical therapists — sit open. The health care sector had the largest gap between vacancies and hires of any sector in April, for example.
An interesting list of positions you got there. Nursing requires a college degree. Physical therapy, a doctorate. It’s not as if some unemployed factory worker can show up, full of pink passion, and get some on-the-job training. Maybe Chira didn’t bother to read the article upon which she based her gender leap of faith. But home health care aide requires only clean fingerprints, so what’s stopping all these manly men from leaping at the opportunity?
But about 70 percent of the health care jobs that the Labor Department predicts will exist in 2024 and classifies among the fastest–growing occupations in the economy paid a median wage of less than $26,000 in 2016 — primarily home health care aides and personal care aides. By contrast, many of the high-paying jobs, like nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, require college or post-college degrees.
An easy fix, if only men (and the women who love them) weren’t so sexist. Just retrain those factory fingers for the promise of an $8 an hour job giving sponge baths. What is wrong with these testosterone monsters?
Pink-collar careers, nursing and teaching, that were traditionally staffed by women, ought to be doing better with Milliennials, at least.
Nursing offers a perplexing case study. In theory, nursing should appeal to men because it pays fairly good wages and is seen as a profession with a defined skill set. Yet just 10 percent of nurses are men, despite “Are You Man Enough … to Be a Nurse?” posters and other efforts to enlist men.
The hope is to focus on millennials who may be less bound by notions of traditional masculinity, said Brent MacWilliams, president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing and a former commercial fisherman who is now an associate professor of nursing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He has seen more men apply to nursing schools, but he acknowledges his group will fall short of its goal of 20 percent male nurses by 2020.
Tried getting a job as a nurse lately? A teacher? If you happen to have the qualifications for those jobs, you’re probably feeling the urge to smack Chira right about now for claiming they can’t fill those jobs.
Jobs that are in high demand but require less extensive training, such as home health care aides, often do not pay well and are an even harder sell for men.
What could possibly make wiping tushies for minimum wage undesirable to the ex-factory worker? But maybe it’s not just the toxic guys, but a sexist conspiracy?
“I sometimes wonder if health organizations don’t want men to come into these jobs because they’ll demand higher wages,” Professor Dill said. “They’re happy to have a work force of women they can pay $8 or $9 an hour.”
Home health care aides provide an enormously valuable and necessary service, but it still doesn’t defy basic compensation theory, that one pay as much as, but no more than, what’s necessary to fill the position with a competent person. And artificially upping salaries raises the perennial question: where would the money to pay these good people come from? They can’t just mint a billion dollar coin, you know.
Little will change unless the jobs do, too.
“Pink-collar jobs are crap jobs for anyone,” said Joan C. Williams, professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “We need to reinvent pink-collar jobs so men will take them and won’t be unhappy — or women, either.”
Oh cool. Just “reinvent” them. An easy fix for the economy, if only men weren’t so toxic about it. Much as apprenticeships may not be the solution to all that ails the economy, the progressive alternative of blaming toxic masculinity offers nothing. But at least it’s easy to blame it on manly men and the women who love them, even if absurdly wrong.