Tag Archives: The Working Poor Invisible in America

Jobs, Jobs Everywhere – But Not for the Lesser-Educated

News item:  the highest rate of unemployment in America is among the folks with the least amount of formal education

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So, here is the real problem.  There are jobs going unfilled because the need for specific education is so high. And, there are workers ready to work, with lower levels of formal education, and there are not enough jobs for all of these willing workers

Brookings just released an extensive research project on this:  Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America.  Click through to download the full paper and the data.

Here’s the key finding:

Advertised job openings in large metropolitan areas require more education than all existing jobs, and more education than the average adult has attained. In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, 43 percent of job openings typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, but just 32 percent of adults 25 and older have earned one.

Notice this line:  “more education than the average adult has attained.”  This gets at the heart of the problem.

The study has specific figures for most Metropolitan areas in the country.  (The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area has way too few job openings for those with only a High school diploma, or less).

So, what does this mean?  It means this:  the jobs that are available are for the college educated.  But, the reality is that we will never see the time when everyone has a college degree.  Current High School graduation rates are about 75%, and that is misleading, because we have found ways to ‘hide” some dropouts.  And, I teach at the Community College Level, and I can assure you that there are a hefty number of students who simply will not earn a four year college degree.

In the 20th century, this country became an economic powerhouse because there was plenty of work to do for hard working folks who did not finish college.  That work is continuing to disappear (outsourcing; automation).  So, the challenge is twofold:

#1 – Get more people more fully educated (for the jobs that are available, needing workers).

#2 – Come up with new ways to employ the less-educated. 

I think we are investing more of our attention on the 1st, but the 2nd should be equally important.

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And a side note:  let me encourage you to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s now classic book, Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America.  It describes the actual work lives of the “invisible” among us.  (“Invisible” is the word used by David Shipler in his excellent book The Working Poor:  Invisible in America).  She describes the work demands, the work ethic, of those who serve our food and clean our hotel rooms and work in the jobs that the educated have “risen above.”

Ms. Ehrenreich is a highly educated woman, but went “undercover” to wok in low-wage jobs.  Here is one of my favorite, one of the most telling, paragraphs in her book:

Toward the end of my stay and after much anxious forethought, I “came out” to a few chosen coworkers.  The result was always stunningly anticlimactic, my favorite response being, “Does this mean you’re not going to be back on the evening shift next week?” 

There Just May Not Be a Magic Bullet – It’s Practically always “Both-And”

It is a great principle in psychiatry that “all-symptoms are overdetermined.  This means that they have more than one cause.
I want to scream this from the rooftops:  “All symptoms are overdetermined.”  Except that I want to expand it way beyond psychiatry.  I want to expand it to almost everything.  I want to translate it, “Anything of any significance is overdetermined.  Everything worth thinking about has more than one cause.”  Repeat after me:  “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.”  Again, “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.” 
M. Scott Peck, In Search of Stones:  A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason, and Discovery

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If only we could get (come up with) the right __________.

We keep looking for the magic bullet.  In every arena, we want the answer to the problem, to come up with the solution for all time.

Probably not gonna happen!

There is always more to it – more to add to the equation.  So many books make this point.

Consider the problem of creating a product (or service) that generates genuine demand.  Here is a paragraph about it from Demand by Adrian Slywotzky:

For the demand creator, building a magnetic product is essential, but it isn’t enough—you also need to understand the customer’s hassle map and figure out how to connect the dots in ways that reduce those hassles or eliminate them altogether. Making an emotional connection with the customer is crucial, but it isn’t enough—you also need to make certain that all the backstory elements are in place, so that you can be sure to avoid the Curse of the Incomplete Product. And even that isn’t enough—you also need to find the most powerful triggers and deploy them effectively if you hope to overcome consumer inertia and transform potential demand energy into real demand. What’s more, great demand creators instinctively understand that even creating a powerful stream of demand isn’t enough—not unless you make a commitment to intense, ongoing improvement so as to meet, and exceed, the ever-rising expectations of your ever-changing customers.

Or consider the problem of prolonged, even multi-generational poverty.  Here is a paragraph from the terrific and important book:  The Working Poor (Invisible in America) by David Shipler:

For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present.  Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause. 
If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be.  A job alone is not enough.  Medical insurance alone is not enough.  Good housing alone is not enough.  Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest.  There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty.  Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise. 

We look for that magic bullet, in our own lives, in our business lives, in our relationships…  There simply may not be that magic bullet.  The problems are many; the causes of the problems are many; the solutions are almost always “both-and,” and very, very seldom “either-or.”

So, keep looking.  There is probably something else to add…

A Suggested Reading List For Those Interested In Issues of Social Justice And Poverty

Karl Krayer and I will soon complete our 13th full year of hosting the First Friday Book Synopsis.  At each of our monthly meetings, Karl and I each present a synopsis of a best selling business book.

For nearly half that time, I have also presented synopses every month for the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries).  And just as people ask me about the best/most important business books, people also ask me about the best/most important social justice & poverty books.

Let me state the obvious – reading one book helps you a little, but reading a series of books, covering an important arena, builds a body of knowledge, and helps you know how to think, and then, what to do.

If social justice and poverty concern you, here’s a short list of books to put in your reading stack.  Read these, and you will begin to build that body of knowledge.

 

Read this book A comment, or two
How to get started…  Start here! The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

 

Yes, that The Grapes of Wrath (1939).  Just to grasp the human struggle of severe poverty.  Everyone should read this in their adult years!
To understand the plight of the working poor Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich went “undercover” before Undercover Boss was ever conceived.
To go a little deeper into the plight of the working poor The Working Poor: (Invisible in America) by David K. Shipler Shipler is a Pulitzer Prize winner – and this is gripping, and sad.
To think about unequal education The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol Or – read his earlier book, Savage Inequalities.  Actually, read this one first…
So, what to do How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein Comprehensive – helpful, useful!

To build optimism

The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard T. Pascale, Jerry Sternin, Monique Sternin

Some encouraging success stories.  The Sternins were used as a success story in the book Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

 

Of course, there are many worthy, valuable books not listed here.  If you compiled your own list, it would be different.  But I think this is a pretty good list to start with.

Clusters of Crises – Interlocking Solutions

Last night, I presented my synopsis of This Time is Different:  Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff.  I presented this at a gathering hosted by a financial planning team, and a member of that team took the floor following my presentation for his observations and Q & A.  Here is the quote from the book that he said deserved special attention:

Crises often occur in clusters.

His point was clear:  there is not one problem in the financial world, but a group, a cluster of problems.  The subprime mortgage crisis, the banking crisis, the Wall Street crisis, the international debt crisis, they are all different – they are all interlocking…

It reminded me again of an important principle I first learned from Scott Peck’s book, In Search of Stones.  The idea is found in the word “overdetermined.”  And the word means this:  there is no one cause for a problem, and there is no one solution to the problem(s).  Here’s an excerpt from the book:

I want to scream this from the rooftops:  “All symptoms are overdetermined.”  Except that I want to expand it way beyond psychiatry.  I want to expand it to almost everything.  I want to translate it, “Anything of any significance is overdetermined.  Everything worth thinking about has more than one cause.”  Repeat after me:  “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.”  Again, “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.”

So, there is no one problem:  Crises often occur in clusters.

And there is no one solution.  In The Working Poor:  (Invisible in America) David K. Shipler speaks strongly to this.  He states that the problems of the working poor are many, and the solutions must also be many, varied, interlocking.  Here are some quotes:

For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present.  Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause.

If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be.  A job alone is not enough.  Medical insurance alone is not enough.  Good housing alone is not enough.  Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest.  There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty.  Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise.

And here’s my summary paragraph of the book:

The working poor are poor because of an interlocking array of reasons.  Any approach to solutions has to grasp the complexity of the problem(s), and provide a multi-faceted strategy to pursue solutions, all at once – continually.

This blog is about:  business books, business book authors, business ideas…  Actually, it is a blog about problems, and solutions.  And there will be many who read this blog looking for clarification on the problem(s), and looking for the (one) answer.  I’ve got bad news.  There is no one problem.  And there is no one solution.   There are problems. There are solutions.  And it is/they are all interlocking, overdetermined.

That’s why there is always another thought to blog about.  And that’s why we have a blogging team.  Because we will never arrive at “having fully learned.” We simply keep learning.

“Nobody who works hard should be poor in America” writes David Shipler

Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage.  They are caught in exhausting struggles.  Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn hold them back.  The term by which they are usually described, “working poor,” should be an oxymoron.  Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.
David Shipler, The Working Poor:  (Invisible in America)

Christmas is right around the corner.  And we are all beginning to think about gifts and parties.  But this year, stories overflow about those in need.  Maybe it’s time to read a book or two about the struggles of so many.

Unemployment is up, food pantries are overrun, and hunger is on the rise.  My friend Larry James, the CEO of Central Dallas Ministries, constantly reminds us to think of others.  Here is an excerpt from a Thanksgiving entry on his blog (by the way, his blog is on my regular to-read list):
While millions of Texas households prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with a hearty family meal, millions of their fellow Texans aren’t sure when or how they’ll get their next meal.
“Texans should be shocked that a state as prosperous as Texas is doing so poorly,” says the state’s agriculture commissioner, Republican Todd Staples.
According to federal statistics released last week, 16.3 percent of Texas households lack regular access to adequate nutrition or face hunger nightly. The percentage of so-called “food insecure” households in Texas is more than 4 points higher than the national average of 12.2 percent, ranking Texas ahead of only Mississippi. In these households, people regularly skip meals, eat cheaper and less nutritious foods, depend on government aid like food stamps or seek help from food pantries.

One thing you could do this holiday season is read a good book about those in need.

For a few years, in addition to the books I read and present for business audiences at the First Friday Book Synopsis and elsewhere, I also read at least one book a month dealing with issues of poverty and social justice.  I present these for the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries.  There are many books to recommend from the list of books I have presented.  For example, Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich has become a modern day classic.  But if I had one book to suggest as a starting place, it would be The Working Poor:  (Invisible in America) by David K. Shipler.

David Shipler is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who turned his gaze upon the working poor in America, the “invisible” among us.  It is a group worth discovering, but, in Shipler’s words, they are almost “invisible in America.” From Shipler:
The man who washes cars does not own one.  The clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank has $2.02 in her account.  The woman who copy-edits medical textbooks has not been to a dentist in a decade.
This is the forgotten America.  At the bottom of the working world, millions live in the shadow of prosperity, in the twilight between poverty and well-being.
They are shaped by their invisible hardships.

Check with any food pantry and you will find that significant percentages of their clients are people who actually work  — hard.  They have jobs, but they simply do not make enough to take care of all of their human needs.

Shipler writes this about the people he profiled in the book:
If this were a collection of short stories, they could be said to have character and sometimes plot, even family tragedy and lonely heroism.  But there is no climax, and no tale ends.  Lives continue unresolved.

Yes, we should continue to pay attention to and give to the nonprofits that serve the abused, the homeless, the mentally ill.  But the needs seem to be spreading to many in these more difficult days.  Reading a book like The Working Poor is an old-fashioned exercise in “consciousness raising.”  Maybe we all could pay a little more attention to this problem that never really goes away.

Let’s remember the people in need – and seek to do our part.

(If you are looking for a place that will put your contributions to work, let me suggest Central Dallas MinistriesClick here to contribute).