Well-Paid Benefit Most As Economy Flourishes
Today’s WaPo fronts a story with the headline “Well-Paid Benefit Most As Economy Flourishes.”
Seems rather axiomatic, no?
The story behind the headline, though, is somewhat more interesting.
Wages are rising more than twice as fast for highly paid workers in the Washington area as they are for low-paid workers, an analysis of federal data by The Washington Post shows. That means the spoils of the region’s economic expansion are going disproportionately to workers who are already well-paid, widening a gap between rich and poor in a place where it is already wider than in most of the country.
Businesspeople cite shifts in the world economy that give educated workers leverage to negotiate for higher wages but make low-paid workers replaceable — a disparity that is especially pronounced in a service economy like Washington’s.
The region’s economy is strong and businesses are expanding, hiring more software engineers, financial analysts, salespeople and other skilled workers, thus bidding up their pay. But companies are simultaneously finding ways to automate clerical tasks, move call centers to cheaper places and handle business online, weakening demand for less-skilled workers.
That’s hardly surprising, of course. This is a trend that’s decades, if not centuries, old.
Still, I always wonder what becomes of the displaced low-skill folks. Sure, being out of work will motivate some of them to go back to school or otherwise acquire more marketable skills. And some chunk of those at the bottom are always there temporarily, either working their way through school or hoping to outwork their competition and get on the management track. But there has to be a sizable percentage that are simply not bright or ambitious enough to move beyond the low-skill sector.
What do the people who used to, say, pump gasoline for a living do in the era of self-service stations? Or the old-time phone operators? I’m willing to wager than precious few of them are now at Microsoft.