Labor Day….its SUPPOSED to be about workers – but Eric Cantor hasn’t been notified…


Eric Cantor’s gaffe on Labor Day  showed his true disdain for American labor when hetweeted…

Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.

Huh??? – Labor Day is supposed to be about employees not employers!

So why am I bringing up labor issues in a blog about innovation?  Because  I  would extend the meaning of the word “labor” to  include anyone who happens to be an employee.  You see, America today is divided into two rough categories when it comes to work.  There are the so-called “job creators”.  They are the entrepreneurs whether they be Mom & Pop merchants to the likes of Mitt Romney who ran Bain Capital. Then there are employees. They run the gamut from people who sweep the floors to professionals working in government or the private sector.

The reason I paint labor with such a broad brush is that with the possible exceptions of Wall Street traders and upper level management most professional career tracks have been downgraded to commodity status. The teacher, the Ph.D. working in a lab, the engineer designing the next generation aircraft have more in common with the workers that sweep the floors and brew our morning coffee at the diner, then they do with the financial elite that have overrun this country.

At the heart of this issue, is what Elizabeth Warren  calls the “hollowing out” of the middle class.   It is the commoditization of virtually everything apart from the few specific fields mentioned above has caused student admissions into graduate and undergraduate programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)  fields to crater.  Instead of entertaining a career designing new cancer drugs,  the talented  minds rush in droves to compete for limited seats in MBA programs.

The way it was….

Professions that required long educations, often amounting to many years of grueling post-graduate work in engineering and science used to be a sure ticket into the lower part of the upper class or at least the upper middle class.  And so it should.  The education is long, can be expensive and takes years away from the world of work.  This postpones the day when these professionals can start socking away money for a home, college and retirement by more than a decade in some cases.   Bottom line:  people only undertake such a program if they feel confident that good high-paying jobs are available at the end of the long educational tunnel – and for decades that was a dependable way to live the American Dream.

The Way it is…

That’s all gone now. Over the last few decades careers in STEM have turned into fickle things that can not be depended on for anything steady.  People are laid off seemingly on a whim.  Outsourcing to China and India has put severe downward pressure on salaries. Insourcing from outside the US has made the problem even worse.  People who invested years of their lives in intensive study for these highly technical fields find their degrees are not worth much more than what they would get as a barista at Starbucks.

So when Eric Cantor maligns and diminishes the role of labor, he also diminishes the scientist, the engineer, the computer programmer, the mathematician. By trivializing work, Cantor is (perhaps unwittingly)  taking direct aim at anyone who actually works for someone else.  This includes the vast majority of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who are not entrepreneurs.  Combine that with our crumbling safety net and the “winner take all” mentality of many in our government and it is small wonder why those who would have pursued a career in science or mathematics find themselves creating algorithms for Wall Street traders.  People like Cantor set the stage for a system that has turned STEM careers into just another race to the bottom rather than a ladder to the top.

© 2012 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.



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