Tag Archives: Barbara Ehrenreich

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


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.


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?” 

They Tried To Ban That Book? — Amazing

We may be a nation based on free speech, but that doesn’t stop people from objecting to certain books and attempting to get them banned–so you and your children can’t read them.
Each year the American Library Association releases a list of the top 10 books that generated the most controversy, naming them the most “challenged” books in public schools and libraries.
(from the article with the most recent list).

We see this list every year.  This year’s list includes some titles that I don’t know, and a couple that I do know.  (Brave New World is on the list).

But the biggest surprise to me was the Barbara Ehrenreich book, Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America.  I have presented my synopsis of this modern classic a few times.

Barbara Ehrenreich, a woman with a Ph.D in cellular biology from Rockefeller University, went deep undercover, working as a server in a restaurant, a house cleaner in a motel; she worked at Walmart.  In the book, she recounts these experiences, with special emphasis on the financial challenges of living on the wages paid in such jobs. Here’s a quote from the book:

Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow.  You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.

Why would people object to this book?  Maybe they feel too ashamed to know what the people who work all around us do for such a low return for their efforts…

When I was a boy, I remember my mother telling me that in the Soviet Union, people could go to jail for what they write.  She told me that in this country, you can write what you want – and speak your mind.  I suspect that was deeply ingrained in me.  And I’m glad it was.

Anyway, I’m not much of a fan of attempts to ban books.  If you disagree with a book, don’t read it – or, better yet, write a book to make your case.

Here’s the list, with the reasons they were challenged:

The top 10 most challenged books of 2010:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson Reasons: Homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie The top 10 most challenged books of 2010:
1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson Reasons: Homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
3. “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley Reasons: Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
4. “Crank,” by Ellen Hopkins Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit
5. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
6. “Lush,” by Natasha Friend Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
7. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know,” by Sonya Sones Reasons: Sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
8. “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America,” by Barbara Ehrenreich Reasons: Drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint
9. “Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology,” edited by Amy Sonnie Reasons: Homosexuality, sexually explicit
10. “Twilight,” by Stephenie Meyer Reasons: Religious viewpoint, violenceReasons: Offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

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.

Maybe We All Have A “Hole” In Our Approach To Life — Insight From “The 2010 Christian Book Of The Year”

For the first major chapter in my life, I served churches in California and Texas as a minister.  I still serve as a “guest preacher” occasionally, and I present books at the Urban Engagment Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries.  So, each month, I read and present a minimum of two book synopses – one a business book for the First FRiday Book Synopsis, the other a social justice/poverty/nonprofit book.

The selections for the Urban Engagement Book Club are genuinely diverse.  I have presented Forces for Good, kind of a Good to Great for nonprofits.  I have presented books about poverty, such as The Working Poor by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Shipler. (I am repeating that presentation later this month).  I have presented the provocative Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

And this week, I presented the book The Hole In Our Gospel:  The Answer That Changed My Life And Might Just Change The World, by Richard Stearns (President, World Vision, U. S.).  This book recently received the 2010 Christian Book of the Year award from The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

Though Central Dallas Ministries is a faith-based organization, we usually do not choose books that are “overtly Christian.”  (The books are selected in discussion with leaders of CDM, with major input from their CEO, Larry James).  We choose books that would be helpful to anyone concerned with issues of poverty and social justice, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy.  We simply try to get people to think more often and more deeply about the needs others, and then we strive to point to needed actions and solutions.

This book by Stearns, a former business executive and now President of World Vision, a remarkable Christian relief organization, has some gripping passages, like this one:

I don’t think I have ever been to a place as spiritually dark as Gulu, in northern Uganda.  Gulu is the epicenter of more than twenty years of violent atrocities committed by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, and its leader, Joseph Kony, a monster who has declared himself to be the son of God.  If Satan is alive and manifesting himself in our world, he is surely present in this cultish and brutal group whose trademark is the kidnapping of children who are subsequently forced at gunpoint to commit murder, rape, and even acts of cannibalism…  He has kidnapped more than thirty-eight thousand children…  it was in this unlikely backdrop that I witnessed the awesome power of the gospel that has become so tame to us in America.

It is also filled with challenging quotes, such as this one:

It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.

In my presentation, I tried to speak to the universal truths and challenges from this book.  Because this is what I believe:  yes, it is a Christian obligation to serve those in need, but, in fact, it is deeper than that – it is a universal human obligation.  Here is what I put on the handout:

What could someone who does not believe in Christ make of this book?  I think this:  the principles are “transferable” into any approach to human life, to human ethics:
• any understanding of the call to human virtue would demand the same things as this book argues re. Christ’s demands:
• an unwavering commitment to serving people, meeting their needs, lifting them out of poverty
• an unwavering commitment to a more selfless life in that pursuit
• perpetual, expanding vision (i.e., actually seeing) regarding real human need

For all Christians, I highly recommend this book.  It pulls no punches in pointing out that the church has a “hole in its gospel” whenever it focuses solely on “spiritual needs,” and does not seek to meet the simple (and, in many parts of the world, including all around us, the overwhelming) human needs.

And to others, this book is still worth reading to raise your awareness of the “hole” in our approach to life.  That hole is two-fold – people battle with the holes in life caused by poverty, disease, the inhumanity of others…  And, any approach to life that does not see such holes, and seek to serve and solve, is a life that is not whole.

A Quote for the Day – from Barbara Ehrenreich

This week, I repeated my synopsis of the book Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  This is a social justice classic, and I revisit it a time or two a year.  It still sells well, after all of these years  (it came out in 2001).

In today’s economically difficult era, the working poor are all around us.  Here’s a key quote from the book:

The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society.  They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high.  To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

A Personal Reflection, and an observation and a little wisdom from Barbara Ehrenreich

Professionally, I live in at least three distinctly different worlds.  One world is the world of significant business books, and as I read and present these books I think a lot about success:  traits of the successful, skills needed, practices practiced, lucky breaks…  A second world is my teaching world, and my students are typical community college students.  The better ones seek to get enough education to enable them to succeed at finding a better job and make more money for their families.  (I have a deep and special appreciation for the struggles of the many single mothers that populate my classes).  The third world is the world of poverty and social justice.

From this world, I share a key quote from an interesting book.

I speak every month at two public events.  One is the First Friday Book Synopsis, assoicated with this blog.  The other is the Urban Engagement Book Club (if you live near Dallas, I invite you to attend – the first Thursday of each month, at lunch.  Go here for details).

This Thursday, I will present my synopsis of Bright-Sided:  How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  She is the author of the remarkable book Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America.  In this new book, she describes just what the subtitle suggests:  that “positive thinking” is not always all that positive.  At least not in all circumstances.  Here is an excerpt from the last page of the book (that key quote I mentioned):

For centuries, or at least since the Protestant Reformation, Western economic elites have flattered themselves with the idea that poverty is a voluntary condition.  The Calvinist saw it as a result of sloth and other bad habits; the positive thinker blamed it on a willful failure to embrace abundance…  But the economic meltdown should have undone, once and for all, the idea of poverty as a personal shortcoming or dysfunctional state of mind.  The lines at unemployment offices and churches offering free food include strivers as well as slackers, habitual optimists as well as the chronically depressed.  When and if the economy recovers we can never allow ourselves to forget how widespread our vulnerability is, how easy it is to spiral down toward destitution.

The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.  Build up the levees, get food to the hungry, find the cure, strengthen the “first responders”!

I have written a lot about the 10,000 hour rule, the importance of work ethic, the idea that success rests on our own shoulders, coming to those who work hard and work smart.  But in this difficult time, it is true that some people who developed important and needed skills, and worked hard, and played by the rules, have seen their savings depleted and their very livelihood taken from them by layoffs and closings and cutbacks.  The 10,000 hour rule may not be enough if your industry is devastated by circumstances well beyond your control.

At the First Friday Book Synopsis, we have more than our share of participants who are “in transition.”  Some of these work as hard looking for their next job as they ever did at their previous job.  But for some, this journey is so very arduous, and takes so long, that the spirit is close to broken.  And so these “strivers,” people who have not been slackers at all, find themselves in difficult straits.

I think we all need to give a little thought to this simple question:

how do we help rebuild an economy that provides opportunities for all of the hard workers among us?

That’s what my reading has led me to think about this week…