The big story today is income inequality and the rise of the top one percent. They’re doing very well, and for their part so are the poorest Americans, who are propped up by a generous welfare system. At the bottom end of the income distribution, people are also finding jobs.
It’s the jobs in the middle of the distribution that have cratered, a phenomenon economists call “jobs polarization.” Highly paid jobs have expanded, but then so too have poorly paid, low-skilled ones. We’re talking about hands-on jobs such as food service workers, janitors and gardeners, cleaners, home health aides, hairdressers and beauticians. They don’t require a high degree of education, they’re not unionized and they won’t make you rich, but the jobs are there. It’s all very well to be in the one percent, but people are still needed to mow the lawns and mop the floors, and that’s not going to be done by computers or machines.
The problem is, where does that leave the Oberlin pajama boy? He’s not going to be a gardener, is he? Nor will the Mount Holyoke grad with a degree in women’s studies become a hairdresser. I think we’re going to have to be a bit more creative in identifying the jobs they might fill, and I have a suggestion. Has it ever struck you, watching Downton Abbey, that you just don’t see any good manservants anymore? It’s not as though we don’t have a lot of fabulously rich people who couldn’t use some help in shopping at Whole Foods or picking up the dry cleaning. Or who might appreciate a clever maidservant who knows how to put together a seating arrangement for a little dinner party.
Oh, I admit, there’s a fair bit of surliness that would have to be baked out of Mr. Oberlin and Miss Holyoke, but a few years in mommy’s basement might take care of that.
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