I urge you to read back to back two insightful recent columns on the elections. The first from the New York Times’ David Brooks is on the role blue collar households played in the Republican landslide, particularly in the Midwest. The second is from Rick Haglund for mlive.com on a new study from the Chicago Fed on the 60 year decline of factory jobs in America.
The two together define the core political challenge we face here in Michigan and across the country in making the inevitable transition to a knowledge-based economy. Voters want their old jobs back at the old pay. But elected officials – no matter their party or ideology – can’t do that. Most of those jobs are gone forever. And the factory jobs that will remain will not pay as well and will require higher skills.
It’s not politics that are destroying factory jobs. It’s the mega forces globalization and technology. And, as Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago senior economist Bill Strauss reports, consumers wanting more services and less manufactured products. The result: factory work was 31% of the jobs in America in 1950, it is 9% today. Six decades of continuous decline, no matter who was in power in Lansing or Washington.
But as Brooks writes working class households – quite understandably – don’t want to hear/accept that those jobs are gone forever. They are holding both parties accountable for delivering middle class blue collar jobs. So they vote out the Rs in 2006 and 2008 and then slaughter the Ds in 2010. That more than likely means a politics – from both parties – here and across the country focused on trying to restore an economy that can’t be restored. Pretty discouraging, but reality.