By Tom McDonald
Blue collar, white collar, it doesn’t matter. They’re both collars.
I’m referring, of course, to the workplace, where so many of us are little more than dogs on a leash, going only as far as our masters will let us, digging holes in the yard to bury the bones they throw us.
Of course, that’s a pretty dark perspective on labor in the U.S.A., but it’s the way a lot of people view their jobs. And while it’s unfortunate, it’s also understandable, given the state of working for a living nowadays.
Despite a slow but prolonged uptick in the U.S. economy since the dark days of the Great Recession, for a large number of American households there’s been no real recovery.
According to Sentier Research Group, a Maryland-based data analysis company, median household income has dropped 4.4 percent since 2009, when the nation started pulling itself out of the recession.
For many Americans, long-term unemployment and falling or stagnant wages remain, so while there may be a bit more job security in the private sector now, money is tighter for working Americans — and polls indicate there’s not a lot of optimism that anything is going to change for the better anytime soon.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics placed New Mexico 36th in a state-by-state comparison of July unemployment rates; in this “land of entrapment” as some naysayers call it, our most recent jobless rate stands at 6.6 percent, nothing to brag about.
That means more than 60,000 New Mexicans seeking jobs have been unable to find them. That’s a fairly large segment of this state’s roughly 1 million-person workforce.
For New Mexicans in such circumstances, a new plant like Telsa’s planned battery-making factory could become the difference between prosperity and poverty. As has been widely reported for months now, the electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors is looking for a place to build its $5 billion gigafactory and New Mexico is in the running for it.
A factory that size would create a tremendous boost to the state’s economy, and not just because of the 6,500 manufacturing jobs it would reportedly create. There’s also the “multiplier effect” — spin-off economic activity that follows new job creation.
Economists use various “multipliers” to determine how many additional jobs are created by such a ripple effect, but they all seem to agree that manufacturing has one of the biggest impacts on overall economic growth.
Tesla is considering four other western states for its battery plant, so the odds aren’t favorable for New Mexico to win it. What’s more, manufacturing isn’t one of our strong suits. More of our jobs come from other industries, including oil and gas, mining, technology and — of course — government.
Our economic dependence on government is a mixed bag. The federal government, which operates air bases, testing grounds, labs and more all over the state, is a welcome addition to our state economy. But we’ve also got a bloated state government, designed in part to serve our lower-income citizenry. Not much of a multiplier effect there.
Blue collar, white collar, forget the collars. What we need here in New Mexico is some free enterprise. Then maybe we’d all feel the rewards of our labor.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: