Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, was recently see speaking at a Romney rally and it has set off a flurry of speculation and accusations. And I’ve gotta say, I think people are missing the point significantly.
Fortunately, Rowe took the time to actually write on his own blog about why he was there, and the answer is very simple: the Skills Gap.
He wasn’t there to make an endorsement or to support Mitt Romney, he was there to talk about a problem that he’s noticed and propose a solution, and he’ll talk to anybody who will listen to him about that.
In Alabama, half the skilled workforce is north of fifty, and retiring fast. For every four workers that leave the workforce, only one enters to replace them. Our Skills Gap is a mathematical nightmare, and it’s playing out all over the country. The result? Hundreds of thousands of jobs that companies simply cannot fill. It’s a massive problem that no one talks about, because in most people’s minds a labor shortage can’t exist while unemployment is over 8%. But the facts are clear, and the gap is real.
This is actually a really good point, and I think one that needs addressing. There are probably a lot of reasons for this particular gap, and there are also a lot of implications that go with this (effect on profits, how wages play a role, what sort of place it plays in both an Austrian and Keynesian sense, etc.), but I think Rowe’s idea is a sound one.
To close the gap, we need to first change perceptions about the definition of a “good job.” It’s simply unrealistic to expect our kids to get excited about careers that society disparages as “dumb, dirty, or dangerous.” We have to remove the stigmas and stereotypes associated with skilled labor, and stop portraying legitimate opportunities as some sort of “vocational consolation prize.” That means letting go of the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only sensible way to acquire useful knowledge and have a good career. In other words, we need a PR Campaign for Skilled Labor, not just for the benefit of skilled workers, but for the benefit of people who rely on their work… meaning all of us. What could be more bi-partisan?
This is a good idea. Yes, it’s a good idea presented at a Romney rally, but who really cares? You’re my readers, you know I’m not the Kumbaya type, but the nature of politics is that we address problems by discussing and agreeing to solutions. Much of the dysfunction of government comes because we refuse to even agree on the problems, let alone the solutions. If Rowe can present an idea that at least gets both sides to acknowledge the same problem, that puts us a step closer to a solution, and I’m actually perfectly ok with that. As he points out, President Obama is sort of busy running the Free World and Rowe can’t “just call The White House and book myself an appearance whenever it suits me,” so he spoke to a Romney rally where it was pointed out that he is not making an endorsement except to endorse that we find a way to treat skilled labor with the respect it deserves. That’s a message we should rally behind, regardless of the stage it’s delivered from.