Globalization 3.0: Where in the world are the good jobs for poor Americans?
From The ODA Blog
In 2005, journalist Thomas Friedman told us that “the global competitive playing field was being leveled. The world was being flattened.” And what is the source of this flattening? A 21st-century world in which random individuals, enabled by high-powered software and applications, were finally freed from the shackles and limitations of nationalism (Globalization 1.0, years 1492-1800) and multinational companies (Globalization 2.0, years 1800-2000) to collaborate with other random people across the globe, regardless of ethnicity or geopolitical boundaries.
When Friedman wrote that “every color of the human rainbow” was to be part of the new Globalization 3.0 (21st Century), we stood up and took notice. Though few others seemed to be making this connection, at least not in our ear, we wondered if Friedman might actually be foreshadowing a world in which more than Brazil, India and China were on the rise?
Could it be that Friedman’s majestic rainbow might eventually cast its breathtaking colors over struggling communities like Baltimore’s Oliver, or New York’s Mott Haven, or Philadelphia’s Broad Street/Dauphin Street, or Wards 7 and 8 in our nation’s capital? After all, if 21st-century software is transformative enough to bring entrepreneurs from South America and Asia together, does it not follow that this new global business environment could eventually be brought to bear on the joblessness and underemployment in America’s inner cities?
It’s a question that bears repeating because quite honestly, we can’t remember the last time a national thinker like Friedman included places like Oliver and Mott Haven in their analysis. That’s not a knock on Friedman — he’s one of today’s best scribes. After all, we plopped down $27.50 for his book. It’s just that in our raging word wars about employment and economics, we nearly always leave our inner cities out of the conversation. We have convinced ourselves with some pretty ugly reasoning that the young men and women on Baltimore’s Milton and Preston Streets do not have the skills or acumen or desire to be players in today’s Globalization 3.0. Open Door America’s street-level knowledge derived from years of work with these good folks confirms just the opposite. They want to work. They want to earn. They want to feed their families and get ahead. They, too, live in a material world.
Some of us have tragically bought into the negative stereotypes that depict millions of urban Americans as hopelessly locked out of the American Dream. We don’t like to admit it out loud, but most of us know that such attitudes are fairly widespread, even in enlightened and sophisticated 2014 America. Ask yourself, when is the last time a major national figure — be it from the world of politics or journalism or business or religion — grabbed the microphone and made the case for building a world-class factory within walking distance of an impoverished inner city community? If you’re struggling to locate an answer, you’re in good company. It’s not the kind of talk you often hear in today’s America. When we discuss the economy, we tend to dwell on things like middle-class unemployment, housing prices and Wall Street investments. This makes perfect sense of course because the people making the rules and holding the whistles are also the same people in charge of the commentary.
The sad irony is that America’s inner cities are the perfect setting for a manufacturing renaissance and jobs explosion in the 21st century. After decades of cruel and debilitating poverty, millions of urban Americans would give their right arm to land a fulltime job that pays as little as $10 or $12 an hour. Higher, more livable wages would be better, but $12 an hour would be a huge improvement for most folks. Just look at the numbers:
A fulltime minimum wage worker ($7.50 an hour) earns $15,600 a year, 35% below the 2014 poverty level for a family of four ($23,850). That same worker earning $12 an hour raises their income 5% above the 4-person poverty threshold.
In Baltimore, where row house rentals in the poorest neighborhoods typically exceed $800 a month, the national poverty threshold for a family of four needs to be evaluated in the broader context of the city’s high cost of living — $800 monthly rent is equal to 62% of a $12-an-hour worker’s monthly income. For these households, two jobs are needed to lift the family securely out of poverty.
Every day at Open Door America, we encounter bright, capable people who are looking for fulltime work that pays more than minimum wage. They don’t understand how it became axiomatic in certain American circles that people in Beijing or Mumbai are better workers, or better investments than unemployed, impoverished Americans in their backyard. When we read Friedman, we are given to both fear and hope. We fear he’s right about many of his current conclusions but we hope he’s wrong about others. We want to believe that America, including inner city America, can be competitive in the 21st Century. We want to believe that Globalization 3.0 can come to mean jobs and economic empowerment for the inner city. We want to believe that someone powerful enough to make a difference will grab the national microphone and start shouting about the vast untapped human capital on the streets of East Baltimore and West Philadelphia. We know where to find the 3.0 workers. The question is, where are the 3.0 jobs?
Open Door Baltimore, a nonprofit that fights poverty by working with businesses to provide living-wage jobs, is expanding beyond the beltway. To better reflect the organization’s larger mission, the board of directors recently approved a new identity and logo.Read More