Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Changing times, changing jobs

My link this time is to a series the Detroit Free Press is running this week. The series is outlining the reduction in manufacturing jobs in Michigan over the years. Michigan used to be the automotive capital of the world, the Motor City. But those days are passing quickly. Whether it is a major auto company like Ford and GM or the many suppliers of the auto companies, these jobs are fleeing the state. Many of the jobs go south to non-union states and others head even farther south (of the border) to Mexico. And even across the seas to China.

The stories left behind are the workers trying to find work that can pay the bills. So many of the workers are older, not trained to start new careers or to compete with younger people. Most end up with jobs with lower pay and reduced benefits usually in jobs that they don't really like.

There is something to be proud of in manufacturing. The teamwork of creating and building something and then creating and building it better is something that many jobs just don't have. The service sector particularily retail and the food industry can be so mundane, waiting on people over and over, day after day. Not that manufacturing isn't routine, but a false smile isn't required all day long. I don't know how to explain it fully. I've worked in both fields and felt more satisfied and more financially rewarded in manufacturing than service.

Sad as well is the fact that most jobs in either of these fields can't pay the bills like they used to. My Dad raised our family of six kids as a lathe operator in tool and die. My Mom didn't need to work and we lived in a better than average suburb. These days in so many families it takes two incomes just to get by with one or two kids.

A major street near us has a stretch of about three miles of manufacturing buildings mostly built within the last 20 years or so. When I drive this stretch of road I see numerous for lease or sale signs in front of many of these former plants. I just shake my head and wonder how long before they are all empty. I wonder what is to become of this stretch of road. When I look at how young these buildings are, I feel that it seems so wasteful to have built them and then to have vacated them not too many years later. I wonder what will this stretch be like even five years from now.


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