Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thomas Friedman: "Today, average is officially over"

A discouraging, though not surprising, message from Thomas Friedman on the Opinion Pages of the New York Times.
In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over.

Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius.

Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment.

Average is over.
We've actually known this was creeping up on us, but not wanted to admit it, at least since the early 1980s.

Thanks, though, to the so-called Great Recession—which we still steadfastly refuse to call a depression, since the corporations, the banks and the investors are doing fine and the breadlines aren't in public—thanks to the Great Recession, we cannot deny the reality any more.

Depression Era breadline

Of course, as first responders, public library staff have known the truth intimately from the time the bubble burst. We have been flooded with customers who have been faithful workers their whole lives yet who, now that they are unemployeed, cannot even apply for unemployment benefits, let alone jobs, if they are not Internet savvy.

Although this isn't why I went to library school, I'm now almost convinced that anything else public libraries do is secondary to helping these folks. I've written several different posts about our mandate to serve the digital refugees.

How do we do it? How do we convince our funders that such service is crucial to the public library's role in the community?

[See Note for some ways our library is addressing these questions.]

The second theme of Friedman's Op/Ed piece, addressing the chanages needed in American education, compounds the challenge:

There will always be change—new jobs, new products, new services. But the one thing we know for sure is that with each advance in globalization and the I.T. revolution, the best jobs will require workers to have more and better education to make themselves above average.

Here are the latest unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Americans over 25 years old: those with less than a high school degree, 13.8 percent; those with a high school degree and no college, 8.7 percent; those with some college or associate degree, 7.7 percent; and those with bachelor’s degree or higher, 4.1 percent

In a world where average is officially over, there are many things we need to do to buttress employment, but nothing would be more important than passing some kind of G.I. Bill for the 21st century that ensures that every American has access to post-high school education.
Do public libraries also have a mandate to support public education in this way? I don't know, but we surely need to advocate on behalf of public education.

We need to say:
"No 'business as usual' while our public cannot sustain themselves."

Note: Jacksonville Public Library is addressing these questions through its strategic planning, which in turn guides its budgetary advocacy with City Council.

For example, our FY 2011-12 Balanced Scorecard includes this objective:
"We will provide tools to help customers with social service and job seeking needs."

Tactics to help achieve this objective:

1. We will provide online resources aimed at meeting these needs.

Measure: Number of visits to new social service database (Right Service) and new Careers & Jobs website.

2. We will provide programs and classes aimed at meeting these needs.

Measure: Number of attendees of relevant programs and classes that have demonstrated benefit. These opportunities may be sponsored by JPL or by partners, such as WorkSource.
The benefit of the programs will be demonstrated by the percentage of WorkSource participants who find work and by evaluations of JPL-provided programs completed by participants.
Here are some relevant links on the Jacksonville Public Library website:
In addition, here are some links to state of Florida resources:
Finally, at Jacksonville Public Library, we hand out copies of the Social Services to the Homeless Green Card to customers who need it.


Anonymous said...

"...13.8 percent; those with a high school degree and no college, 8.7 percent; those with some college or associate degree, 7.7 percent; and those with bachelor’s degree or higher, 4.1 percent"

Are there only 34% of persons age 25 or higher? If not, where have the other 65% gone?


Mike Shell said...

Interesting question.

The way I read it, Friedman is saying that

-- of "those with less than a high school degree, 13.8 percent" are unemployed
-- of "those with a high school degree and no college, 8.7 percent" are unemployed, etc.

In other words, the lower the level of education, the higher the rate of unemployment.

Thanks for pointing out the lack of clarity in Friedman's wording.