In the three decades after WWII, the United States enjoyed unprecedented growth, family stability and jobs.
The typical working-class family had the husband as head of the household and chief earner. The wife raised the children and stayed at home. Sons could expect to get factory work after completing their education.
Often they worked alongside their father. Soon those boys would marry and start their own families. This cycle was expected to continue indefinitely. Roles were clear and uncomplicated during that 30-year period of prosperity.
Several events occurred since the mid-70s that changed the working culture. There began a shift in manufacturing moving jobs abroad as corporations saw the advantage of cheaper labor. Improved transportation, shipping, and air travel allowed products made abroad to be shipped to the states at low cost. Automation and computers brought us from the industrial age to the information age.
The working culture changed and destabilized. More women went to work, divorce rates climbed, civil rights advanced and the definition of the family evolved.
Children were victims of this changing culture as the family unit as defined in the 60s gave way to single moms, cohabitation rather than marriage, the demand for acceptance of alternate lifestyles and a continued shrinking of semiskilled and unskilled work. Factories closed.
Many political candidates promise voters more jobs, better pay, and recapturing the American dream. Few running for office will admit that what made America grow following WWII will not work anymore. The markets have changed. The clock cannot be reversed. We need political leaders who understand the new economy. The industrial age is over. New thinking is needed.
There is a world economy. Emerging poor nations are benefiting from their role in manufacturing. International growth should not be discouraged. Poverty is the root of unrest and prosperity promotes peace. America needs to adjust to an economy in which it has a smaller role in agriculture and manufacturing.
Hurting the economies of emerging nations through tariffs and other unfriendly policies will hurt global progress and will do little to help at home. The way to recapture American growth is to adjust to what could be defined as the “New American Economy.”
The first question to political promises: “What are the jobs?”
Manufacturing in the U.S has been in decline since the 80s. Most semi-skilled and unskilled work is low paying. The service industry, health-care workers, repair shops, grocery markets, and similar work do not provide a living wage.
Those with technical training have good opportunities. Of course, the professions typically require graduate education but offer an excellent track to lucrative careers.
Political office seekers should be advocating education as the proper conduit to careers. Unfortunately, public school funding is under siege and the high cost of college discourages many talented students from pursuing education. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is correct: we must provide a free education through college to students.
More assembly-line jobs are not the solution. The answer lies more with education and training than factory employment.
Dr. Marc J. Yacht, MD, MPH is a retired physician. Column courtesy of Context Florida