The key to driving the economy may be to elevate the country's many low-wage service jobs, with better pay and more opportunity
My op-ed in the May 3rd Financial Times makes a case for a radical approach to solving America's jobs problem -- upgrading low-wage service jobs. Here's a longer, original version of that piece, including the critical chart (immediately below) compiled by my colleagues at the Martin Prosperity Institute. The chart tracks the rise and fall of four broad classes of work -- agricultural work (farm), industrial work (manuf), knowledge-based and creative work (CC), and routine low-wage service work (LWS) -- from 1800 through 2009.
As the American economy has evolved and transformed, the nature of its great job machine has also shifted. Understanding these historical changes can help us better understand the broad sources of employment growth and what we need to do to revamp America's stalled job machine today.
The first American job machine was organized around farms and agricultural employment. More than four in 10 Americans worked on farms in 1800. Another 20 percent or so worked in manufacturing.
The second great American job machine took hold during the mid-19th century, propelled by the surge in manufacturing. By late in the century, some 60 percent of the workforce had been absorbed in industrial jobs while agricultural work dropped to roughly ten percent of employment. Industrial and blue-collar manufacturing jobs would power America's economic and employment growth for the better part of the next century, until roughly1950. But for most of those years, it was low-wage, long-day, dirty and dangerous work -- it wasn't until the Great Depression, the New Deal, and post WW II prosperity that blue-collar jobs became good, family supporting jobs.