Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon May 17th 2010 at 4:52pm UTC

Rebuilding America’s Good Job Machine

Here’s the intro from my interview with Newsweek.com’s Nancy Cook.

As the economy recovers and Americans get back to work, the wage gap between white- and blue-collar work is expected to grow. According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 million people—46 percent of the American workforce—in 2009 worked in the service sector as cashiers, office clerks, cooks, nurses, retail salespeople, or customer-service representatives.

But rather than consign nearly half of the nation’s workers to relatively low-paying jobs, why not use the recession as an opportunity to make over service work into something fulfilling and analytical, hopefully with higher wages? So asks Richard Florida, professor, social scientist, and author of the bestselling book The Rise of the Creative Class. Following the release of his latest tome,The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, NEWSWEEK’S Nancy Cook asked Florida about his vision for “upgrading” the service economy.

Read the full interview here.

2 Responses to “Rebuilding America’s Good Job Machine”

  1. Bruce Says:

    The potential of upgrading service sector jobs is an exciting idea but I don’t see how it will actually work in practice. What about a revival of unions?

    Whenever Richard writes about this topic, he often makes reference to his father’s experience working in a factory and how conditions (pay and benefits) improved in the decades after the Second World War. For example, Richard comments: ” For the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a drastic transformation in service jobs. This comes from someone whose father worked in factory. After my father came back from World War II, not only had the economy improved but the manufacturing industry had become higher paying…” It seems like the gains that many manufacturing sector workers enjoyed in North America may be credited the gains made by auto worker unions and other sectors as well as the highly beneficial expansion of the welfare state.

    Workers in other occupations (e.g. teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, accountants etc) have some of their high income through guild like organizations that decide who can become a member of the profession. So collective actions to maintain standards is not limited to manufacturing.

    Given how much income inequality has increased in the United States (and Canada and other countries, for data see Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone*) since 1980 with most gains going to the top 1% of income earners, why should a janitor bother to innovate as Richard suggests in the article? Will his or her productivity enhancing development simply be captured and passed on to management in the form of greater bonuses?

    *http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/why/evidence

    Sidenote:
    I don’t want to suggest that unions and collective agreements are a magic bullet by any means. I have seen cases of union contracts slowly innovation, making people extremely risk adverse and creating such high job security that some workers act up.

  2. Paul Says:

    Bruce- I think you make an especially good point about the productivity gains of workers mostly going to benefit owners. Productivity growth in the U.S. has been phenomenal for the past twenty years, but wages have been stagnant. If service sector jobs are going to be upgraded into more creative jobs, workers will need the power and organization to share in the gains that their increased productivity brings. Mr. Florida must know this; I mean, he studied Toyota, and Toyota would be nothing without its union, which is an integral part of its business model as a creative manufacturer. Now, Toyota’s union is a company union, which are illegal in the U.S. Maybe one thing that Mr. Florida, a public intellectual, should push for, is a change to the laws to enable company unions.