As our economy has increasingly become globalized over the past several decades there have certainly been many winners and many losers here in America. While I would argue that increased international trade generally has been a net positive for the prosperity of our nation, it is also a fact that it has done great damage to many within our economy as well.
Since the late 90’s more and more corporations have made the decision to close factories here in the US and to outsource the jobs to places like Mexico or Asia where the cost of labor is significantly cheaper. This outsourcing of production has generally resulted in lower priced items for most Americans, and greater profits for the corporations. It has also produced an overall contraction of the middle class however, hitting blue collar workers particularly hard.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics manufacturing employment has dropped by roughly one third since January 2000. Of those workers remaining in manufacturing 40% now have post-high school degrees as more and more of these jobs require experience in robotics or computer science.
Many blue collar workers, with limited education, have found themselves disenfranchised by the changing landscape of our world economy and been forced to shift to service based industries where the pay is significantly lower and unions have little to no influence. With all of this happening, it should be no surprise that the populist movement people like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have used to garner political power, continues to grow.
However, as crushing as globalism has been to the blue collar worker here in the US, I believe it has the ability to be even more devastating to American white collar workers in the coming years. Among other things, the pandemic has proven to many companies that remote working is not only possible, but perhaps preferable for many types of jobs. Part of the reason corporations are embracing this new digital workplace is the greatly expanded pool of potential employees they have access to in it. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, economist Richard Baldwin, warned that “if you can do your job from home, be scared. Be very scared”
The reality is, as corporations continue to seek ways to lower overall costs and increase profits, developing counties like India or China become attractive places to outsource skilled jobs in fields like engineering, IT, and corporate finance among others. While this wont happen overnight, as companies oversees become better at providing American companies with skilled employees that cost a fraction of their American counterpart there is a possibility unemployment here in the US skyrocket.
Frankly, I am torn on how I feel about this ever-changing business landscape we now face. The idealistic part of me who believes wholeheartedly that competition is the lifeblood of economic growth, embraces the idea of American workers being forced to compete in a global free market. However, the pragmatic side of me realizes that can’t be allowed to happen. Because totalitarian regimes like the ones currently in China do not play by the same rules we do, its not actually a fair competition and trying to win a game that is fixed is simply an exercise in futility.
That’s why we shouldn’t wait until these white-collar jobs are shipped overseas to develop a plan. As our blue-collar workers have already learned the hard way, once job types are outsourced, they rarely return in significant numbers.
If you are currently working a job from home, my advice would be to volunteer to return to the office at least part-time as soon as possible. By doing so, you might be able to better show the value you bring to your team and just how irreplaceable you really are.
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)