The Job Pyramid

PJMediaINCONVENIENT TRUTHS: NY Times: Tech is Splitting the Workplace in Two.

The article focuses on Phoenix, Arizona, as an example of a city in which high-tech is prominent, but the percentage of workers in low-skilled, low-wage jobs hasn’t move for forty years. The implied solution, of course, is government intervention. You might think it would be impossible to write a lengthy article of this sort *without even mentioning* the huge influx of low-skilled labor from Mexico to Arizona in that timeframe, well over 50% of whom have been undocumented since 1990. You might think so, but you’d be wrong. Putting aside what one thinks of immigration, legal or otherwise, it seems rather obvious that if a city is consistently importing poorly-educated workers who don’t speak English, most of whom have no legal residency status and cannot work legally, the percentage of workers in low-skilled, low-wage jobs is going to stay high.

Another important point: Why would you expect the percentage of workers in low-skilled, low-wage jobs hasn't moved? Most of those jobs are consequences of the population; construction (housing and office buildings), maintenance/janitorial work or service industry (waitstaff, fast food), cashiers and other small business type jobs. Having a lot of tech jobs doesn't suddenly make those other jobs pay better, or require more skills... or any less necessary.

If there is population growth you would expect there to be more jobs like that. But you wouldn't expect the percentages to shift much unless you are under the delusion that the people working those jobs can easily transition to a high tech job if one becomes available. Newsflash: they can't, as a general rule. (The exception are high school and college students who are developing technical skills and working other jobs while they do; but even that won't change the percentage of people in low-skill jobs, because someone else will just take the low-skill job they left).

Unpleasant but factual: life is a pyramid. Each level at the top takes a much wider level below it as support. To have your tech executive, you need executive secretaries and managers. To have your managers you need tech workers. To have your tech workers you need computers and offices; to have computers you need IT staff and to have offices you need janitors, construction workers, electricians, air conditioning guys. To have all of them you need cooks. To have cooks you need food, which means you need farms, and the farms need farmers. And so on, and so on.

And no, labor saving technologies don't necessarily help. They eliminate some of the jobs from lower levels of the pyramids. They don't make the people there any better able to fill jobs at higher levels. Some of them already have the ability to fill those jobs, perhaps with training to help. Some don't.

This entry was published Thu Mar 07 07:47:20 CST 2019 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2019-02-12 11:25:05.0. [Tweet]

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