In-vesting in America

Friday, December 7, 2001

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By Eli Fishman

A recent Federal Reserve press release revealed the lamentable status of U.S. manufacturing employment. Since 2000, U.S. manufacturers have shed more than 1 million workers. With unemployment continuing to rise, many of those workers will remain out of work. Most, however, will seek employment in the personal-service sector. They will clean rooms, make deliveries, wait on tables, park cars and, most often, work in retail at a large department store or local convenience store.

Most of these jobs require what I call in-vesting: working in a vest. Instead of a vest, it could be working in a hat, T-shirt of some other type of identifying apparel. The purpose of the vest or uniform is to identify an employee. It also helps the employee better match the store decor.

The entry barriers to in-vesting occupations are minimal. In-vesting jobs are available to virtually everyone anytime. The large labor pool for these jobs and non-skill requirements assures the wages paid for in-vesting work will remain extremely low. Thus, the growing army of those in-vesting eight hours a day, 40 hours a week is forced to live in poverty. The living-wage level or minimum wages needed to stay above the poverty line in the St. Louis area is $8.84 an hour, plus medical benefits. How many in-vesting jobs pay $9.90 an hour or more plus offer medical benefits?

Theoretically, it is possible to surmount the exigency of acquiring in-vesting jobs through the development of human capital: getting a college education. However, the current rise in U.S. unemployment is being led by those with college degrees. Tech and financial firms are eliminating tens of thousands of management-level positions. Thus, college-educated young people entering the work force are more likely to begin by competing for in-vesting jobs.

The expansion of poverty-level employment is adding to the disparity in income levels of American citizens. More and more wealth is being concentrated into the hands of fewer individuals. According to the Federal Reserve, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans controls more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Supply-side economic policies encouraging huge tax cuts have redistributed wealth by clearly establishing a trickle-up momentum.

However, the culprits in creating an economy based on an in-vesting work force servicing the peccadilloes of those with substantial wealth are not just the rich. The culpability lies with each individual choosing to purchase low-cost goods from foreign governments compelling their populace to toil under the most inhumane conditions for virtually no compensation. Each time an individual chooses to purchase a product from Communist China, he contributes to the loss of well-paid U.S. manufacturing jobs as well as the loss of opportunities for our young, college-educated professionals to make a contribution to the long-term prosperity of our people.

As you do your holiday shopping, look at the labels. Buy American for you and your children.

Eli Fishman is the owner of Cape Shoe Co. in Cape Girardeau.

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