Factory towns, like Oklahoma City, have been suffering a great loss of middle-income jobs, influencing its political picture and policies on tariffs and immigration. This loss and disappearance of middle-class jobs could be attributed to not only globalization and automation but also the dwindling of the public sector in general.
Middle-class jobs have been the comfortable option for many Americans in the past, including being a teacher, firefighter, bus driver, etc. However, the provision of these jobs was deeply dependent on the public sector, as it worked towards ensuring the access and affordability of houses, cars and welfare for the workers.
However, many of these factory towns have been witnessing a rather dismaying trend: the population of the towns soared, while the number of middle-class workers actually dwindled drastically. In fact, the remaining 19.5 million workers find themselves worse off financially than her before. Teachers, for example, have been planning protests to appeal for higher wages in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona. This has become an increasingly pressed regional concern.
An abuse investigator, Teresa Moore, has been comfortable for the past thirty years until she realized her annual income of $43,000 no longer puts her into the ranks of the middle class. She has two daughters and came to this stark realization when she applied for a mortgage a few years ago and was deemed as “low income.” She now has to work an additional part-time job to sustain herself and her family.
On the other hand, in contrast to the decline of the public sector, the private sector has been soaring as it created 18.6 million positions, witnessed a 17% increase in the past 100 months. The private sector, however, lacks the stability that the public sector guarantees and ensures. While the public sector allows workers to have generally easy access to houses, cars and the stability of a life, the private sector pays just above minimum wage and demands unpredictable hours.
Towns like Oklahoma City has been experiencing a shortage of workers for jobs like restaurant inspectors and mental health counselors and the administrators worry about that repercussion on the neighborhood and community.
The federal government now employs approximately 2.8 million civilians, and this number is way below the levels in previous decades. Many towns and states have turned towards the private sector due to their shortages in money, maximizing profits by moving jobs from the public sector to the private sector. The profit, therefore, transferred from the hands of middle-class civilians to the government of the states.
This has inevitably led to shortages of jobs in the public sectors, as the state prisons and mental health departments in Oklahoma, both face a severe shortage of staff. Many public offices have suffered a loss of almost half of their previous employees and staff.
This phenomenon does not strike us as surprising as a report released in 2017 found that average wages of public sector jobs were 27% lower than those in the private sector. Losing the appeal for easy accessibility to the middle class, the public sector consequently suffers great losses in capacity.
Public sector workers felt as if they are now paying taxes and benefits that they no longer have the capacity and privilege to afford. Being a part of the public sector no longer means what it used to provide.
Featured Image via Flickr/DonkeyHotey