Good jobs are disappearing in the United States, and our young people are ill-prepared to take those that remain. That, at least, is what many Americans fear as the U.S. struggles to move out of the so-called Great Recession. We’ll explore presumptions about the new marketplace for work and what’s being done to create both good jobs and good workers.


  • Harry Holzer Professor of Public Policy, Georgetown University; Co-author, "Where Are All the Good Jobs Going?" (Russell Sage Foundation)


  • 12:06:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Let's put out the help wanted sign and start hiring again. That's the message President Obama sent to the business community this week, and you don't need a Ph.D. in economics to know that the economy won't fully recover unless jobs are a bigger part of the equation. But even if firms do start hiring again, it's unclear whether those positions will be good jobs, jobs with decent salaries, benefits and a reasonable amount of security.

  • 12:07:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn this hour, we'll be getting local and national perspectives on jobs and job training. Later in the hour, we'll talk about the challenges for some of the District's hardest to employ residents, but first, we start with a broader perspective and a fundamental question: Are jobs permanently disappearing from the U.S. economy? And if so, why? Joining us to help answer this and other questions is Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University and co-author of the book "Where Are All The Good Jobs Going?: What National And Local Job Quality And Dynamics Mean For U.S. Workers." Harry Holzer, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:07

    PROF. HARRY HOLZERThank you, Kojo. Good to see you.

  • 12:08:08

    NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, of course, by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think jobs are permanently disappearing from the U.S. economy? How has the sector you work in changed over the years? 800-433-8850. As you know, President Obama spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, and jobs were at the top of his agenda.

  • 12:08:32

    PRES. BARACK OBAMAAsk yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers or you can do to support the American economy and invest in this nation. That's what I want to talk about today -- the responsibilities we all have, the mutual responsibilities we have to secure the future that we all share.

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDIHarry Holzer, what did you think about this message that it's a shared responsibility of the government and the business community to try to lift all boats in this economy?

  • 12:09:05

    HOLZERI generally think that that's a reasonable comment to make, and I certainly think government should make every effort. You know, I think the business community is not gonna out and create jobs out of a sense of social responsibility.

  • 12:09:18

    NNAMDIIt's not in the business of lifting all boats.

  • 12:09:20

    HOLZERExactly. They're in the business of making profits, and they will do so when they think it's in their interest to do so and not until then.

  • 12:09:30

    NNAMDIBut American businesses are sitting on almost $2 trillion on their balance books, so naturally, a lot of people are asking, why aren't they hiring more? What's your take on that?

  • 12:09:40

    HOLZERWell, they aren't convinced that they need to do so yet or that's in their interest to do so yet. I think American employers have figured out how to generate a lot of goods and services that they need to sell without hiring a lot of extra workers. They can squeeze productivity out of their current workforces, and they can do it with technology and with offshoring and other techniques. And until they're convinced that this recovery is here to stay and that they really need more workers, they're not gonna make the commitment and the investment to bring new folks on. I think maybe when they see those stronger signs, they're gonna be more willing to do so.

  • 12:10:16

    NNAMDIThe big-picture question that you address in your book is whether good jobs are, in fact, disappearing from the U.S. economy. What is the answer?

  • 12:10:25

    HOLZERThe answer is that over the long term, they're not disappearing, but they're in really different places than they used to be. A generation or two ago, you had a lot of these good jobs in manufacturing and other sectors where you can get a good job, a good-paying job without a lot of skills or education. Those kinds of jobs are mostly disappearing. We have many millions of good jobs still being created in the American economy, but they need more in the way of skills and post-secondary education than they did in the past. And that's true in many sectors of the economy.

  • 12:10:56

    NNAMDIAgain, the number is 800-433-8850. What do you think government and U.S. businesses should be doing when it comes to job creation? 800-433-8850. Or you can send an e-mail to or a tweet, @kojoshow. If jobs are going overseas, as some people think, are -- or they're evaporating simply due to the aforementioned increases in productivity.

  • 12:11:23

    HOLZERI don't think over the long run that that's so much of a problem. When productivity increases over time -- and we've had massive increases in productivity over the last hundred years -- that means prices become lower. When prices become lower, consumers buy more products, and then that generates new jobs. When you think of the auto industry, where the assembly line under Henry Ford, dramatically increased productivity, but it brought the price of a car down so much that people started buying a lot more of them. So I think that's the process by which over the long run, the economy does create jobs. The real question is, what's gonna be the quality of those jobs, and who's gonna get the good-paying ones?

  • 12:12:01

    NNAMDIBut when we created the assembly line, it meant that people could come right out of high school, get a manufacturing job and support your family for, I guess, a long time over the duration. Are those jobs gone? Are the kinds of white-collar jobs that we're now getting also lower quality?

  • 12:12:20

    HOLZERThere are many great jobs in the American economy. Some of them are white collar, and some of them are not. If you think of all the technical jobs and the health care sector or in installation and maintenance repair of mechanical systems, certainly in construction and even in some parts of durable manufacturing, machinist jobs, specialized welding jobs. So there's a lot of good jobs still there. What is disappearing are the ones in the past, the sort of basic assembly jobs or even clerical jobs in offices where with a high school diploma and very little extra training, you could get a good-paying middle-class type job. I think those are disappearing. What...

  • 12:12:55


  • 12:12:56

    HOLZERBecause I think the combination of technology and globalization, international trade, offshoring, that combination of forces, employers have found it's easier to do that work and cheaper through some of other means, either offshore or with the Internet and computers at home. There are many, many good jobs that stay here, but again, they do require increasingly good basic skills, good communication skills and some kind of post-secondary. I don't -- by the way, I don't believe everybody needs a college diploma. We don't all need to go out and become biotech engineers. But some kind of post-secondary, a certificate, an associate's degree or something is often needed for the good-paying jobs we still have.

  • 12:13:40

    NNAMDIOur guest is Harry Holzer. He's a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and co-author of the book "Where Are All The Good Jobs Going?: What National And Local Job Quality And Dynamics Mean For U.S. Workers." Here is Mike in Cheverly, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:58

    MIKEThanks for taking my call. Yes, jobs are disappearing from America in the sense that we are not going to be printing widgets in factories anymore, and that's really not what we should be doing. We're an advanced mature economy. We're above that, in a sense. We should be trying to develop the next step. You know, after the Industrial Revolution, we had a technology revolution. We were the leaders in that. We were able to use that, sell and license our technology, and the rest of the world can then pay us basically to catch up. We should be pouring money into developing engineers and scientists and people who are interested in developing energy because that's the next step, is who can be the first to come up with a good clean source of energy for this planet. And whoever does, he's gonna win, and that's where all the jobs are gonna be in the future.

  • 12:14:49

    NNAMDIThis is part of a broader discussion about what sectors of the economy are likely to grow in the future. Clearly, the sector that Mike is referring to, the clean energy sector, is likely to grow, but can that and that alone cause the expansion of the economy and jobs that we need?

  • 12:15:07

    HOLZERI think it's a mistake to bet all your chips on any one sector or even a few sectors. I agree with the caller. I agree with Mike that that's an area we should be investing in more, that that could potentially -- almost certainly be a growth sector. But to think that clean energy is gonna create good jobs for tens of millions of workers, that seems like a stretch. We have to look for good jobs across the board, in all kinds of sectors of the economy, mostly in the service sector. That's where most of them are gonna be, and many of them are there now. And we can probably encourage more employers to create good jobs there and then make sure that the workers have the skills to get them. But I don't think we can bank on a magic bullet from one or two sectors.

  • 12:15:50

    NNAMDIHere's Ron in Manassas, Va. Hi, Ron.

  • 12:15:53

    RONHi, Kojo. How are you today?

  • 12:15:55

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 12:15:56

    RONI'm good. I -- you know, in all respect, I turned in a little late, so I didn't hear everything. But I'm just gonna say this. I've been in construction for 30 years, and I can tell you that's not where the good-paying jobs is. Half the country doesn't think unions are a good thing. And unless we deal with immigration in a very realistic way that will allow them to compete fairly, the wages for them, you know, immigrants legal or illegal, and the average construction worker are never going to really rise properly. I mean, this is a very intertwined issue, and I mean, there are places like New York City that if you're in a union, yes, they're great jobs. But it's not really the case. And in a place like right to work state, in Virginia, the Commonwealth, it's twice difficult.

  • 12:16:46

    NNAMDIThere are, of course, problems in the construction industry because there are -- we're not building as many houses as we did before, but in general, our caller seems to be saying that because of competition from foreign-born workers who are non-union and work for less and the fact that in non-union states, those people can receive wide employment is also having a depressing effect on American workers in construction.

  • 12:17:11

    HOLZERI think there's at least a little bit of truth to that, so the caller identified two problems, the decline of unionization, which has happened across the board in the American economy, and it's very hard to reverse, and the rising presence of immigrant workers. I think, in general, immigrants add a lot to our economy. There are some limited numbers of sectors where they also add competition, and construction, residential construction, especially, is one of those sectors. Having said that, I think a lot of good jobs remain in construction, a lot of high-paying jobs, certainly, the more -- the highly skilled end, the construction crafts, electricians, plumbers, jobs of that nature and certainly more in commercial construction than in residential. So I still think once we bounce back from the bursting of the housing bubble that's happened in the last few years, we'll revert to what I call the pre-bubble trend in construction, which is a pretty good trend. And in spite of the presence of a lot of these immigrants, I still think that a decent number of good-paying jobs get created there.

  • 12:18:14

    NNAMDII think a lot of people have the general impression that things are getting tougher for American workers. Fewer people are covered by unemployment insurance than in the past, and many other benefits like employer-sponsored health insurance seemed to be becoming more rare. Are things in fact getting worse for American workers?

  • 12:18:32

    HOLZERWell, certainly, right now, when we're in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, things are bleak, and a lot of Americans have heard. And this economy shed eight million jobs of which we've only gotten a million back. So in that kind of environment, things feel really bad, and they are bad. But, of course, the real question is we will recover from this thing, this recession. It may take four or five more years to do that. And then the question is over the long term. Are things getting worse? And there, again, I think the good-paying jobs for less educated workers are largely a thing of the past. And so for those workers, things are getting tougher. And so if we want things to be better for more American workers, it does mean expanding the base level of education and job training and workforce development so that more workers can take advantage of the good jobs that we still create. Absent that, I think the perception is accurate that things are gonna get tougher.

  • 12:19:26

    NNAMDIJust how much of a mismatch is there in the U.S. economy when it comes to the skills that workers have and the skills that employers want and need?

  • 12:19:35

    HOLZERThere is some evidence right now that even a 10 percent unemployment and even when employers create good jobs that some of them have a hard time finding skilled workers. Michael Fletcher of The Washington Post had had a nice piece last week, looking at skilled manufacturing jobs that employers are having trouble filling in Fresno, Cali. because they can't find these workers. I think what happens, over time, a labor market adjusts and a labor market comes to balance, and most people can find some kind of work. The problem is that too many people are crowding into the low-end jobs because that's all that they're skilled for. And so they get jobs, but it depresses wages there. And that's a kind of mismatch as well even though these people get employed. I would prefer to see a world where more workers had the skills, the higher end skills, the middle-level skills and could improve their wages in that way.

  • 12:20:24

    NNAMDIYou prefer to see it, but is it likely to happen? Is it likely to happen? Are people likely to get more education, or will we conceivably be in the same situation a decade from now?

  • 12:20:35

    HOLZERWell, it is conceivable. I think we need to do a better job certainly from a public policy point of view, making education options available that are relevant for the good jobs in the economy. And, of course, you know, there's an enormous amount of discussion about education in America and K-12 reforms. I'm talking about high-quality career education. I'm talking about apprenticeships. I'm talking about better links, stronger links between community colleges and the workforce development system and economic development, and some states have made some good strides in doing this. But in general, our economy and our education system is not well geared towards training people directly for the good jobs we have available. And so I think we could make improvements, but they require some changes in our education and workforce policies.

  • 12:21:20

    NNAMDIHere is Frank in Fairfax, Va. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:25

    FRANKYes. I appreciate many of the points of your guest but, he, like many other experts, seems to be overlooking a fundamental problem that -- one of which is the U.S. is unique in the world among advanced nations in having essentially a battle to the death between environmentalists and industry. And that is combined with essential stigma, many barriers on just those sectors, manufacturing industry and land use, that use to support over half of the country's economy. So those stigmas do not apply to banking, finance, entertainment and so forth. How come this enormous vary of problems has been overlooked by economists?

  • 12:22:14

    NNAMDIYour turn, Harry Holzer.

  • 12:22:16

    HOLZERWell, I don't think they've been overlooked. There's been a lot of studies on environmental regulations and what they've done to manufacturing employment. And my sense, from that literature, is that environmental regulations are not the main reason that that good paying jobs in durable manufacturing have disappeared. It has a lot more to do with technology. Robotics have had an enormous impact on this industry and globalization in imports, you know? And it's -- you know, China enables manufacturing to be done at much lower cost and, by the way, that's a good thing for the American consumer. There'd be a lot of irate consumers if we cut off sources of imports of these products from China, and the average American would be worse off if we did that, not better off. So I think we wanna make sure that the manufacturing we have stays here and we wanna support that. But it's a natural trend for that sector to shrink over time, and we'll probably gonna have to look to other sectors to make up for those jobs.

  • 12:23:15

    NNAMDIFrank, thank you very much for your call. You point out that the U.S. labor market is probably the most unequal in the industrialized world in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor. And we got this e-mail from David who says, "The business community's focus on profit and high pay for the top executives is not something that always was the given for big or small businesses. Providing work and serving the greater community used to be and, for some, still is, just as important as profits for shareholders or the owner. The inflation of executive pay is a symptom of the current malady for American business, where serving others has been replaced by serving oneself."

  • 12:23:57

    HOLZERThere's some truth to that, unfortunately. You know, I think American businesses have always been in the business of creating profits for themselves. That's not new. I think most of what's happened in the U.S. labor market does reflect these market forces of new technologies and globalization. But that point, what's happened in terms of executive pay and financial market bonuses is important. The top 1 percent has pulled away from the rest of the 99 percent of the labor market, in a way that you really can't judge or justify by market fundamentals. And the norms that used to guide pay settings at those levels have completely eroded, and it's become reasonable for these outlandish salaries and bonuses to be paid. And I wouldn't mind it if it were directly tied to productivity and performance. But in so many cases, these folks get massive bonuses when they are performing, and then they get even bigger bonuses when they're not performing. And I think that's a place where some better regulation could help level the playing field a little bit.

  • 12:25:01

    NNAMDIHere's Arturo in Fairfax, Va. Arturo, your turn.

  • 12:25:05

    ARTUROHi. Thanks for telling my -- taking my call. I think we're talking about manufacturing jobs, good manufacturing jobs, but it's something that I think that's gonna come back to this country anymore. Why? Big corporations, they're making big money paying lower cost labor. So neither one of us is gonna work for two hours -- $2 dollars a day. I mean, that's the real truth. So if we just keep, you know, buying their stuff and just getting all the cheap labor, they get the stuff really cheap. I mean, let's say, they get a pair of tennis shoes that you can buy in China in 10 bucks, and they bring it in here. They wanna sell it to us in 120, 140 bucks. Who is making that money, you know? So if they make the tennis shoes in here, they may have to sell it to that price. But they make it over there, and they sell it to the price that they sell it to us. So somebody is making tons of money, and we're getting killed on the jobs.

  • 12:26:10

    NNAMDIHow do we bring those jobs back home? Thank you for your call, Arturo. You think that it'll probably take five years for us to reduce our unemployment rate to somewhere around 5 percent from where it is now. How do we get there because five years can seem like a long time? But in terms of putting policies into place and then seeing the impact of those policies, I guess it's really not that long.

  • 12:26:32

    HOLZERYou know, unfortunately, if you're one of the unemployed, it's pretty long. And I do feel that young people who enter this kind of labor market or even children who grow up in these now poor families with unemployed parents, they're gonna be scarred even beyond the five-year period. So I do worry about that. But I think there's a lot of stimulus in the economy right now from what the Federal Reserve Bank has done and from all these tax cuts and extra government spending. And I think it's beginning to jumpstart the economy. And the question is how much? You know, if we could get growth -- economic growth to the 4 percent or above 4 percent level, you know, then you'll start to see some steady declines on the unemployment rate. So far, we've had economic growth in the last year, just not enough to bring the unemployment rate down. But I'm hoping that the economic stimulus out there right now will boost that rate and bring more jobs back.

  • 12:27:27

    NNAMDIHarry Holzer is a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and co-author of the book "Where Are All the Good Jobs Going? What National and Local Job Quality and Dynamics Mean for U.S. Workers." Harry Holzer, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:27:40

    HOLZERThank you, Kojo. I've really enjoyed it.

  • 12:27:42

    NNAMDIWhen we come back, we'll be talking about jobs in D.C. for the cities most needy job seekers. You can call us, 800-433-8850. Have you been looking for a job in D.C. lately? What has your experience been? Or you can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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