June 16, 2016 - Isabel Sawhill

June 16, 2016
Isabel Sawhill

I moved to New Mexico because my wife Amy, in her wisdom, loved the place, and it was both an inexpensive and beautiful place to retire to. In other words, it was a good place to deal with a bad situation.

Retirement was not my idea. But it was handed to me by an employment situation in which the jobs the news media were offering were not ones I would want to do, and where a lifetime as an obstreperous, independent-minded employee left employers feeling like whatever jobs they had, they’d just as soon not give to me.

Thus was forced upon me a very basic question, why did I still want to work?

It turned out there were four very good answers.

  1. Working boosts self-worth…call it the dignity of labor, when I lost the latter, I felt robbed of the former.
  2. Work is stimulating…every day on a good job creates an opportunity for creativity, or at least accomplishment. As I like to say of this program: “you could learn something.”
  3. The society of workers is comforting and supportive…sharing a workplace expands your circle of friends and offers all the delights of synergy, becoming part of a bigger sum certainly than your single part.
  4. You get paid, and my small but dependable salary at KSFR definitely changes my life for the better.

All these personal benefits translate on a geometric scale when measured on a collective national scale. The more citizens work, and the more value they derive from their work, the better things are in their country.

That’s why trends that show how America is losing workers, especially men in their prime employment years, and how badly wage scales for the majority of American workers lag the earnings of the top 10, 1 or 1/10th of 1% are so frightening.

There is some good news, of course…the drop in the percentage of Americans who are officially unemployed (a very slippery number) would be better if it wasn’t so largely based on the numbers of people who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. And the increasing ability of the overall American economy to create new jobs sufficient to match the pace of new workers coming onto the job market (a very important number) would be better if it weren’t so much a reflection of an aging workforce and lower birth rates.

Reading Room

Isabel V. Sawhill is a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, where she formerly held the position of Vice President and Director of Economic Studies, among other duties. She has authored and co-authored several books, including Getting Ahead: Economic and Social Mobility in America and Updating America’s Social Contract: Economic Growth and Opportunity in the New Century.

“The gender pay gap: To equality and beyond” – Brookings Institution

“The District’s proposed law shows the wrong way to provide paid leave” – Brookings Institution

“Paid leave will be a hot issue in the 2016 campaign” – Brookings Institution

“Raising the Minimum Wage and Redesigning the EITC” – Brookings Institution

“Whatever happened to middle class income gains?” – Brookings Institution

“Where have all the workers gone?” – Brookings Institution

“Men’s Lib!” – The New York Times

“The Fed as poverty fighter” – Brookings Institution

“The end of laboring days?” – Brookings Institution

“A No-Cost Proposal to Reduce Poverty & Inequality” – Brookings Institution

“Ten Things You Should Know About Jobs” – Brookings Institution

“Poverty: It’s More than a Job Market Story” – Brookings Institution

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