So yesterday I had the privilege to hear the famous economist, Dr. Robert Reich, speak at the San Diego Workforce Partnership Forum. This non-profit organization put on a very nice event, hosted at Qualcomm headquarters.
Dr. Reich broke the ice with some self-deprecating humor. To the surprise of everyone who had not seen Dr. Reich before, he’s about the same height as Danny DeVito. This has nothing to do with his stature as a man. He is a very smart, articulate man, who has made a career of serving the public.
One liners by Dr. Reich:
“An economist is someone who didn’t have the personality to be an accountant.”
“In economics you shouldn’t measure the average of anything, such as in comparing the average height between me (Dr. Reich) and Shakil O’Neal.” You need to look at the mean, so you don’t get skewed data. For example, if you are looking at the average income in the U.S., the figure would be greatly skewed by the 1% of earners, such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet that earn far in excess of the mean income of U.S. workers.
In describing how American families have coped with reduced real income after inflation, he uses the term DINS, standing for Double Income, No Sex.
Finally, one close to home for those in pest control, he provides the etymology of the word Politics: “Poli meaning many, and Tics for Blood sucking insects.”
As I mentioned in my prior post regarding Dr. Reich’s new book, I don’t fully adhere to his recommendations, although I absolutely recognize the validity of his analysis. Wages in the hands of low and middle income workers are wages spent and circulated. But after listening, I’m less sure that I fully agree with his reasoning. I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I believe Dr. Reich focuses a bit too heavily on low wages in our “Great Recession” having resulted from a concentration of income within the top one percent of our population after 1975.
One gets a sense that Dr. Reich sees America like this:
He certainly provides a thoughtful analysis, but I just believe that his good servant approach has caused him to under weigh other sociological and psychological factors impacting employment and wages.
I would argue that wages increased in the post WWII era though 1975 with increased labor demand, as the “Greatest Generation” had their baby boomer families. They needed homes, more vehicles, more education and so forth. But when those same baby boomers grew up, they all needed jobs, crowding the labor pool. In past generations, it was largely the men who sought work. But in the baby boom generation, due to the women’s liberation movement, the pill and single family households, large numbers of both men and women flooded the labor pool, increasing supply and driving down the cost of labor. (Don’t forget that minorities also had previously been kept out of many job markets that now became open to them, further impacting salary levels in those new sectors for minority employment).
Dr. Reich recognizes that more and more women entered the workforce, creating the DINS “Double Income No Sex” phenomenon, as a result of the need to stay ahead of lagging wages. This may be true to some degree, but I would strongly argue that women entered the workforce because they wanted to work! Women have always wanted to work, but with the advent of the women’s liberation movement, they finally were able to do it without a huge stigma. That is a good thing, even if the result was that wages as a whole suffered initially from the increased labor pool.
Another factor was innovation. Prior to the 1929 crash, great wealth was concentrated at the top because of tremendous innovation that resulted in meaningful commercial inventions. This was repeated in the last 20 years with widespread purchase of computers and internet use, creating great fortunes, such as Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Perhaps Dr. Reich should actually look at averages rather than mean, taking more time to examine why these vast discrepancies exist in income? Just a thought.
For me, the most important take away from the meeting was not anything gleaned from Dr. Reich. It was networking with the many HR and training professionals in the not-for-profit and government sectors. I learned more than I could have imagined about the federal money that is available for hiring and retraining available to for-profit companies. There is so much money available that could help your companies, but the agencies have not done a good job of informing the corporate world. As with so much federal expenditures, if the money is not used, it must be returned to the federal government. This is not “pork barrel” money for special interest projects. This is money that the federal government has set aside for enterprises like yours or mine to put people to work. You can begin by browsing this page at the U.S. Department of Labor. So you do not become too overwelmed, I strongly suggest that you call your local government hiring and training programs to ask about federally supported re-entry jobs and training.
If you are looking to play an active role in the community, these job training programs are looking for board members and advisors from industry, to help them better understand how to match up potential workers with good employers. I think that could be a “win-win-win” for your company, the community and the individual seeking a new opportunity in difficult times.