Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day

More education is the panacea from economists to cure all societal ills. It is the mom-and-apple-pie solution that no one questions or attempts to further drill-down with additional questions.

The future for American workers is 'knowledge-based' work, according to the Secretary of Labor .

What are the employment rates for 'knowledge-based' work in Brazil, Russia, India, China (BRIC) as well as Malaysia, the Phillipines, Vietnam, Slovakia, etc? Double digit increases every year while US workers have experienced a leveling off of demand or dramatic layoffs.

This simple question is never asked about any new technology ... 'Can the work be done overseas?'

If so, then 'what prevents it from being done overseas?'

If information is available instantaneously to all parts of the world, then all new technologies are also quickly available to be learned and utilized by cheaper workers overseas.

If the new work being created today is indeed knowledge-based as the Secretary of Labor says, what is the advantage that an educated American has over an educated Vietnamese to fill that position ?

Lastly, if millions of Americans took her advice and went back to school tomorrow, what are the chances that our economy , or the world economy , would absorb millions of new knowledge-workers from the US within the next year or 3 ? Or would job market economics come into play and decrease wages since so many people in so short a time flooded the job market ?

Published September 3, 2007

America's economy increasingly knowledge-based


For more than a century, Labor Day has been a federal holiday. And American workers have never been more deserving of formal recognition than today. Our nation's standard of living, freedom and accomplishments are the envy of the world. That's a tribute to the strength, productivity and resiliency of America's work force. By continuing to help our workers access the training and tools they need(what training and tools , specifically?) , this new century promises to be America's greatest yet.

The U.S. labor force is 153 million people strong. Three traits of the American work force position our nation for tremendous gains in the increasingly competitive 21st century worldwide economy: high productivity, flexibility and mobility.

The mobility and flexibility of America's work force are truly remarkable. Every year, about one-third of U.S. jobs change hands, largely because workers have found better opportunities. Change is the norm in our society and is a primary route to advancement. (what statistics does she have to show that 'most' workers change jobs to get 'better' jobs ? How does she define 'better' ? what parts of the economy -- lower, middle or upper pay scales -- are changing for better jobs?)

America's economy is increasingly a knowledge-based economy. Two-thirds of all the new jobs being created require(require college? sounds like a federal full-employment program for colleges... in reality most jobs require a HS degree and some specialized knowledge that can be gotten on the job or via a certification program. The generic prescription is for people to go to college , or get another degree, or get more training. What exactly to study is also generic , 'knowledge-based ' work! ) some kind of post-secondary education. Over the next decade, America will need 3 million health-care professionals and 1.7 million schoolteachers. We will need more than 900,000 engineers, including aerospace, biomedical, civil, computer software, and environmental engineers. (3 million health care workers ? what level ? more health aides than doctors or nurses as the boomer generation ages . 900,000 engineers over 10 years? 90,000 a year for all these many types of new 'knowledge-based' engineers ? 90,000 is an incredibly small number in an economy of over 150 million current workers that she mentions ... 6/100ths of a percent !!!) We will also need workers in other high-growth industries including nanotechnology, geospatial technology, and the life sciences, to name a few.(she neglects to put a guesstimate on how many will be needed in these areas) .

Higher-skilled jobs that require more education are clearly the future for the United States in the worldwide economy. And acquiring the skills and training to access these jobs is absolutely critical to the success of individual workers. From 2001 through 2006, high-paying occupations grew almost three times as much as lower-paying occupations. There is a "skills gap" in our economy that has kept lower-skilled workers from seeing their wages rise as quickly as workers in higher-skilled occupations. (what are those higher paying occupations? give an example or two . And this is most probably a statistical 'lie' , there are always much fewer higher-paying jobs than lower-paying ones, so any increases are bigger as percentages than in the aggregate. )

With the new school year starting, students need to be aware that high school dropouts make about $522 (this is $13/hr for HS dropouts!! I would think they would make closer to minimum wage ... She must be adding in any 'benefits' but I'm not sure what benefits minimum -wage workers get .... and maybe she is adding in some overtime hours ) per week for full-time work and their unemployment rate is about 7.1 percent. Meanwhile, workers with a high school diploma average $704 ($17.5/hr) weekly, and this segment of the work force has a 4.4 percent unemployment rate. Workers with associate degrees average about $846 per week($21/hr), and this group's unemployment rate is 3.5 percent. But workers with a bachelor's degree or higher average $1,393 per week ($35/hr)and have an unemployment rate of 2.1 percent.

More than ever before, education, training and retraining are the keys to future earnings. Graduating from high school really does pay off and going onto college pays off even more!

To empower more workers with higher work skills and education, the Bush administration has invested in work-force training that is more relevant and responsive to the changing times. That investment includes training individual workers for jobs in the new, knowledge-based economy.(ok, what are these specific training programs? For what fields and where do I sign up?) Other investments serve as the catalyst for entire regions to align their resources so they can compete worldwide.

America's success - past, present and future - rests on the strong foundation that America's workers have built. Our challenge is to ensure that workers continue to have access to the education and skills necessary to remain competitive in the 21st century worldwide economy.

ELAINE L. CHAO is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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