Nature v. Nurture and the Millennial Generation

The millennial generation is labeled as lazy and entitled. We forego the American dream of marriage, two-story home with garage, and well paying nine to five jobs, to still live with our parents and pursue alternative career options.

I believe the generation that raised us, mostly baby boomers, taught us a solid work ethic and instilled core values into our fabric of being. The truth is we are not lazy or entitled; we are just different. The classic debate of nature vs. nurture undertones our generational experience as we were raised with the American values of hard work and perseverance, but the world has become less stable and full scale revolutions in the workplace from technology to manufacturing have taken place.

The financial crisis of 2008 left my generation with PTSD and a host of trust issues. The first wave of millennials were graduating college and prepping to enter the work force just as the economic infrastructure of the United States was failing. The housing market, which could be relied upon with the same certainty that the sun sets in the west, collapsed.

The waves of millennials graduating from college after the recession find that jobs paying a wage that justify the tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt are scarce. Slave labor has been repackaged as “unpaid internships”, promising to give college graduates who don’t know better a foot in the door. For entry level jobs, and jobs requiring a few years of experience, wages have remained stagnant; while rent and cost of living increases are swift.

The combining economic factors of cheap foreign labor and automation has shrunk the availability of work for millennials who decided not to go to college. This disproportionately affects millennial males. Women outnumber men in college enrollments, in 2012 by 10% with 71% of women enrolled in college compared to 61% of males.

Manufacturing, construction, and transportation were once reliable industries that non-college educated men could make a good living in. Humans have almost entirely been removed from manufacturing products, and automation is set to do the same in construction and transportation.

We were nurtured to play by rules that governed a different era, and nature has turned all of those ideas on their head. Staying true to biology, we have adapted as a generation – by becoming mobile, less committed, and more entrepreneurial than previous generations.

According to a new survey 43% of millennials moved away from their hometown and 44% said they moved to a more densely populated city than where they grew up. The most common response for moving was jobs, concentrated in big cities where tech industries have blossomed. Nearly half the respondents said they were likely to move in the next year.

As a generation of transients, commitment to a geographic area or city is not an ideal that has been successfully passed down. Millennials have a lower rate of home ownership than other generations did at the same age. The shift in our economy away from manufacturing towards technology has created a pivot in the geographic locale of labor demand; cities like Detroit and others of the rust belt have been traded for tech boomers like San Francisco and Atlanta.

Seventeen years into the twenty first century and it feels like we are closer to a world of the Jetsons than we are to the pre-internet era. The millennial generation is the great guinea pig of history bridging the gap between two periods of time that are as different as the dark ages and the renaissance, and will be studied by future historians as so. We struggle to stay true to the ideals of our forefathers while living in a world our forefathers couldn’t have imagined.

Automation: The Real Killer of American Jobs – Part 2.

Part 2 of a 2 part series for the Good Men Project.

In Part 1 I stated that the real job killer of American manufacturing is robots, not the Chinese or Mexicans. Manufacturing is a good starting point to look at the impact of technology because manufacturing accounts for 12.5% of total U.S. GDP and nearly 9% of U.S. employment according to the most recent report from the Economic Policy Institute.

As innovation in automation and technology continue to develop, robotics will become cheaper, artificial intelligence will improve, and more sectors of our economy will experience similar transformations to those in manufacturing. A well-cited study from Oxford University analyzed how technology will affect the future of employment. The study found that 47% of all U.S. employment is at risk of being replaced due to technology.

Construction and Transportation are two of the largest industries that could be the next dominoes to fall to automation. Construction employs over 2 million Americans, while transportation employs 3 million. Both of these industries employ over 90% male workers and provide above average wages for workers without degrees or specific trade skills.

Uber’s self-driving freight truck and the Hadrian robotics system are two examples of recent technological leaps in transportation and construction. Far from just science fiction concepts, Uber and Fastbrick Robotics, manufacturer of the Hadrian, have already unveiled their self-driving semi truck and brick laying robot and plan to release them into the work force as early as this year.

A follow up Oxford University study showed which U.S. cities would be most and least impacted by automation. Out of the 11 cities that will be most affected by automation 7 were in rust belt states while out of the 11 to be least affected 8 were in Eastern or Western coastal states. It also stated that North America has the most to gain from automation, while China has the most to lose. Technology may entice companies to move factories back home, but that does not necessarily mean jobs for humans will follow.

While Trump pandered to the regions of the country most vulnerable to the changing economic landscape, I have yet to hear Trump put forth actual, tangible solutions to the difficulties technology has created. I have not heard anything more than grandiose, abstract claims about bringing jobs back to American shores.

What American workers need are policies that allow them to better compete in a changing global economy.

Where are the calls for job retraining programs for those workers replaced by technology? Better yet, will Trump protect workers, wages and unions? He recently nominated Andrew Puzder for labor secretary. Puzder is a fast food executive who has been outspoken against raising the minimum wage, and in March told Business Insider that he was actively investing in automation technology for the restaurant industry. That is a position contrary to the message of creating, and I fear the nomination will leave workers with fewer resources and advocates at the national level.

One of the safest ways to raise the quality of life and qualifications of the workforce is to invest in education. While automation is inevitable, humans will still need to research, develop, design, and manage those machines. Jobs will certainly be created by technology. Investment in all levels of education, making college affordable for more Americans, and investing in job retraining programs are policies that benefit everyone, and possibly the only way Trump can deliver on his campaign promise.

His message sounded good on the campaign trail, but it is not entirely practical or possible. What the working class people, the citizens in the rust belt, and all of America need to hear are Trump’s plans for investing in the future of the American work force and how he will protect workers and wages.

Automation: The Real Job Killer of American Manufacturing.

Part 1 of a 2 part series for the Good Men Project.

I am an optimistic believer in the possibility of an America which can move forward unified, despite the differences we have in race, class, education, the list goes on ad infinitum. But first, I need to try to understand the people who I did not agree with on Election Day. This section of the population I may have little in common with on a core issue that does not directly affect me. A healthy future depends on how well we try to understand one another regardless of our differences.

In this two part series I set out to explore job loss in the manufacturing industry; an industry which once provided good jobs with decent pay to many of the working class men in the rust belt and southern regions of the United States. A great deal of time and effort was devoted to this issue on the campaign trail and the debate became a hot button issue.

Like many other baffled Americans, I was fascinated with the passion and adoration Trump supporters had for him. Many of these supporters were white, working class males from the rust belt and southern states, a large and specific section of the population that feel forgotten by Washington D.C.

While the exit polls continued to roll out it didn’t take long after November 8th to figure out why this specific demographic had supported Trump with intensity and fervor. Trump’s message on the campaign trail and the lines of people who came out in droves to vote for him began to align as the whole picture came into focus.

Donald Trump’s campaign was built on the foundation of statements that were emotionally charging rather than factually accurate. One of his earliest claims that remain part of the bedrock of his platform is that China and Mexico are responsible for the massive hemorrhaging of U.S. manufacturing jobs. He claims that U.S. companies have opted out of the American labor force and have moved their plants overseas to take advantage of cheap labor.

Like much of what Trump says, this statement does not tell the complete story, nor is it beneficial to the millions of working class men once employed in manufacturing. On the contrary it serves as a war drum beat to rally support behind his agenda.

The real job killer of American manufacturing is automation. Robots, not the Chinese or Mexicans, are responsible for the shrinking of manufacturing jobs. These jobs are mostly in male dominated industries and were once a way for people who were not skilled workers or college educated to make a decent living with healthcare and benefits.

In the manufacturing industry, which has been decimated by automation, men hold 73% of factory jobs. In April of 2016 the Congressional Research Service, whose research influences many of the bills that pass through the Legislature, published their report “U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective.”

The report showed that the United State is second to only China in global manufacturing output, yet since 1990 U.S. employment in manufacturing is down 31%. The report also states “The United States saw a disproportionately large drop

between 2000 and 2010, but its decline in manufacturing employment since 1990

is in line with the changes in several European countries and Japan.” Shrinking of employment in manufacturing is a worldwide trend that is not exclusive to America.

The manufacturing industry in America is alive and well, we are producing more goods than ever before. Due to automation it is no longer necessary to employ thousands of factory workers to do the same job that a few robots can do. Not to mention those robots can work 24/7 without taking breaks, getting hurt, or requiring benefits. Technology is being used globally to increase productivity at the price of displacing workers.

As the tide of automation rises, as it has been for decades, more workers are laid off, houses are foreclosed, and the American dream becomes an abstract concept rather than a practical reality. It also leaves large numbers of mostly working class men justifiably angry and in need of a solution.

Per usual, politicians exploit the situation to capture power. They preach to the unemployed, disenfranchised, and the ones who feel left out by the current political system. Their illusion of a solution is to blame immigrants and foreigners; it’s much more emotional and dramatic than blaming the robots. More importantly it garners support, funds campaigns, and motivates millions to vote for them.

I can’t exclusively fault Trump for promoting this message. While the way in which he does it is highly unsettling, his exploitation of a vulnerable group and subsequent claim of a tangible solution is a tactic politicians on both sides of the aisle have been using since ink dried on the Constitution.

While the exploitations and false promises are not new trends in the world of politics, automation is a relatively new trend affecting employment. Next week I will take a look at the social implications and social support programs of those who are displaced by automation as well as what it means for the future of employment.