I remember in the ’90s when my government job was disappeared as part of Clinton and Gore’s “Reinvention of Government.” Job counselors solemnly sat in front of groups of “displaced” workers and told us, ” you can’t expect to go on doing one thing for the rest of your work careers.” Of course, I had to sit and listen to the rest of the lecture to qualify for job retraining, so I sat.
At the time, the plastics industry in my state was rapidly being offshored to China, and half of the people were displaced factory workers. The other half were people from a large computer company that essentially committed suicide through poor strategic decisions. I was off in a corner by myself not fitting in either group. In the single room, were people from very different ends of the economic and educational spectrum. We were about to be offered the same one size fits palliative job retraining by the state. I think the guidebook they gave us got written by some government department cooperating with a chamber of commerce. Someone had forecast that food services, healthcare, and retail were where the jobs would be, and that’s what we all should retrain for. I wasn’t the only one in the room that felt as though I had stepped into a Soviet-era planned economy with a five-year plan. I’d love to quash the oversimplifications I heard that day, and seal them away with other myths. Many of us opted out to start our own five-year plans.
We are currently enduring a different fracas concerning jobs. Retail, restaurants, education, childcare, and healthcare are in flux due to the Covid pandemic. I’m not sure that our plans for the displaced are any better now than thirty years ago.
Other than pronouncements of surprise at what’s happening, I’ve seen little discussion of emerging policy. What I do hear seems to be amazement that people flee the underpaid, overstressed, and underappreciated sectors of an economy. Are you surprised that people don’t want poor compensation for hard work?
An economy is like a spider web; strands are supporting others and interdependent. Right now, a giant has just plowed through the web, and the tears are evident. I hope they don’t let the same government department and chamber of commerce prepare the next guidebook. But, if they do, I advise that you design a plan in a hurry.