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A Blue Collar State of Mind

Posted in Jobs, and Politics

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump for POTUS (or for Hillary Clinton), but I understand exactly why so many did and why he won the election. Blue collar workers, once the heart of the US middle class, feel they have been left behind with globalization, automation, illegal immigration, and broken links between education and jobs, and they want changes such as those Trump promised. Someone quipped that they voted the Democrats in eight years ago, hoping for more and better jobs and pay, and all they got was redesigned bathrooms.

Though I didn’t support Mr. Trump, now that he is elected, I hope and pray that he will rise to the occasion and be an effective leader, establishing policies that will help reverse, or at least halt, unfavorable economic trends and improve the median citizen attitude. (Attitude in the economy, as in sports, is very important and was probably President Reagan’s most important contribution.) That, I believe, will require some behavior changes by President Trump. Improving the attitude of a third while angering another third will just be a mirror image of the last eight years and will result in worsening conditions and a liberal landslide in 2024 or much sooner.

The blue collar state of mind is one that I understand. It was the atmosphere in which I grew up, in a very small family-owned furniture business dealing in lots of used furniture and appliances needing cleaning and repairs, and, for the first twenty years of adulthood, in chemical plant operations.

I learned some business skills and principles in the family furniture business as well as how to clean old refrigerators of mold and stoves of grease and dead mice and couches of stains and resident roaches and how to repair stuff. I didn’t enjoy those cleaning tasks but, I have to admit, it was sometimes satisfying to see the results. I was never interested in taking over the family business and wanted a good 8 to 5 office job with Saturdays off. That is why I went to engineering school, not realizing that it was a path that would lead to lots of dirty work and weekend duty in chemical plant operations. I didn’t have the tough jobs of the “blue collar” Chemical Operators and Mechanics, but I enjoyed working with them and learning from them. And though I spent my last fourteen working years mostly among professionals and executives in nice office environments, my basic blue collar mind set never changed.

After retirement, I again spent a lot of time with blue collar working folks in the volunteer work I found stimulating (www.homeworksofamerica.org). At the risk of stereotyping, I will say that I enjoy hanging around folks who get dirty at work and must take showers at the end of the day and don freshly laundered clothes in the morning if they expect goodnight kisses at bedtime and goodbye kisses when heading out to work. (That is not sexist and applies to women as well as to men.)

That is a huge contrast with a different strategy that I learned about in a casual conversation just a few days ago. I learned that it is trendy in some circles to wear jeans for weeks or even months without washing in order to “preserve the color and shape of the jeans” and to put them in the freezer to kill germs and odors. A side benefit is that it “conserves water and reduces the negative impact on our environment.” I’m not making this up. Read about it here or here.

Back to the election. I’m guessing that more than 80% of blue collar workers voted for Mr. Trump and that more than 80% of people who resist washing their jeans but put them in the freezer to kill bacteria and conserve water voted against him. Those are two entirely different mindsets at work.

In spite of my hopes that Mr. Trump’s administration will bring improvement, do I see much possibility of success in reversing the forty year unfavorable trends in real GDP growth, full-time job creation per capita, compensation, illegal immigration, and education? No, I don’t. I believe we will need Plan B which is going to involve a lot of compensating actions and continued reduction of wealth relative to other nations. At least we can afford it.

But, whatever happens, I believe at least two large groups of folks will be successful in supporting themselves and their families, with satisfying and financially rewarding work, over the next two or three decades. One is the technologically educated and astute, especially those who take advantage of the unlimited new technology-enabled business opportunities, and the other is the skilled blue collar folks who make our products and build our houses and keep our cars and appliances and cooling, heating, plumbing, and electrical systems and our power and water distribution grids and transportation and distribution systems working. We may enjoy the fruits of the former but will depend heavily on the services of the latter. We must respect and quit demonizing each other for the ways we voted. We are just reaping what we have sown.

Besides, we shouldn’t be making any assumptions about how individuals voted. Those blue collar folks are not all in the so-called Red states. Mr. Trump got more than twice as many votes in New York than he got in South Carolina and almost nine times as many votes in California than he got in Utah. Efforts to divide and label ourselves and others are pretty futile, and insulting. I hope I didn’t insult any jean freezers, a few of whom probably voted for Mr. Trump.

Edited a bit on January 10th.

 

 

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