Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slamming workers for having a history

Nolan Finley wrote this week about what he considers the stupidity of the Michigan public.

Finley says a recent EPIC MRA poll about public education and preparing students for the future finds that "Forty-six percent said the schools should train students for jobs they can get with a high school degree, while 41 percent said college preparation should be the mission."

Is it really so bad to wish that a publicly provided education could equip citizens for meaningful work with a living wage?

According to pollster Ed Sarpolous, Michigan residents still identify with a manufacturing culture and are not convinced that a college education is necessary to meet their employment needs. This should come as no surprise. For generations, factory work has provided a comfortable, middle-class standard of living to Michigan citizens. People with that perspective have been shaped by the experience of their parents, grand parents and great grand parents. This world view and narrative span generations not fiscal quarters. This is about people and places and history, not shareholders and quarterly profits and global capital movement.

Finley concludes that people in Michigan are stupid and lazy. He suggests a new strategy for promoting higher education among disadvantaged workers for whom he has contempt.

"Create an appetite for the jobs, and maybe job seekers will get off their backsides and get themselves some skills," writes Finley blaming the unemployed for not having work.

Here's another possibility: given the economic stresses befalling the blue-collar, Michigan middle-class maybe they are unwilling to go into debt again to get a college degree that may not allow them to pay back student loans. Maybe these folks are not ready to mortgage their future earning potential. Indeed they are still watching their nest eggs shrivel as real estate values collapse.

Finley should read the Michigan League for Human Services recent report, The Changing Face of Poverty in Michigan, which documents stagnating wages, rising costs, increasing foreclosures, and less access to health coverage.

Perhaps the EPIC MRA poll reveals skepticism about debt, pain from real economic stress and a resistance to acquiesce to globalization? Instead of blaming workers for wanting continuity of their family history and saying we need to better market higher education, Finley should examine cost barriers to higher education in an economy where poverty is increasing. If the unemployed are deciding between medicine and food, college tuition is probably not on their radar.