We are at a crossroads in America. We no longer have a middle class. It’s disappeared. Poof, gone. You can work in the retail or service sector for low wages, or you can try and get an advanced degree and work in the tech world. There’s almost nothing in between. We cannot compete with the global economy when it comes to manufacturing. Period, game over, it isn’t coming back.
Of course there will be niches here and there we succeed at and offshoring isn’t quite as cheap as it once was. At the end of the day though, you cannot compete against a country whos workers are paid pennies on the dollar compared to the U.S. The sooner we come to grips with that the better off we’ll be.
I was listening to Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker on a morning show today and she made an astounding comment. When asked what U.S. sectors are doing well right now her answer was “construction, housing, and consumer retail”. That’s it. That’s our economy in a nutshell. Sectors that are based upon low skilled labor and are volatile and bubble-prone. That oughta scare the holly bejeezus out of you. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that comfortable banking our economic underpinnings on the hope that Americans will continue to embrace the iPhone 9s with a screen size .02 cm larger or the resurgence of the hover board craze (guaranteed fire resistant!). It’s ok though, ’cause you’re going to need a bigger home to store all that stuff – and boy, do we have some exciting new mortgage options for you!
So what will be the economic engine for the middle class in the future? I’m certainly not smart enough to figure that out or I’d already be investing in it. It clearly won’t be the manufacturing of “things”. It has to be a commodity that can’t be easily shipped from overseas. Something that takes development of an actual skill or expertise, yet doesn’t necessarily require years of schooling and advanced degrees. A job that is valued and recession-proof enough that the average Joe/Jane can support a family and, with some prudent saving, can afford to go drink fruity adult beverages with tiny umbrellas on a beach occasionally.
While I don’t know what that sector will be, if I had kids or if you’re just starting out in the job world, I’d make damn sure I was comfortable with data, information management, and device connectivity. Learn how to create a website beyond just using a canned template. Can you connect a device to a network and troubleshoot problems? Can you write simple scripts to connect various programs and do something with their output? Can you take data from a program and do something with it to present it in a compelling way? None of these things take years of advanced math or electrical engineering to understand. These are skills anyone who applies themselves can master.
What is clear about the future is that we will be driven by data. Billions of cheaply manufactured devices will all be connected to various networks and attempting to communicate with each other. Yes, eventually your refrigerator will be not only ordering your weekly groceries, but will be preparing nutritional summaries for your health care provider. My report will be exclusively cheese, beer, and hummus. Beef and pork will be too damn expensive for anyone but the evil one percenters.
I’ve gone the route of helping sick people. There will always be sick people, right? Meanwhile I’ll probably be replaced by an $11 an hour, 17 year old medical assistant wielding a Star Trek medical tricorder. I should have been training to be a tricorder repairman. Or an Obamacare v.12 website administrator.