#OneWithFarai — Alec Ross on Middle-Class Woes in a Global Economy

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Alec Ross, former diplomat and globalization expert

Former Diplomat Alec Ross spoke to us about the pressures on working-and middle-class Americans in a globalized economy. He served as Senior Advisor for Innovation at the State Department; grew up in West Virginia and now lives in my hometown of Baltimore

Listen here:

Alec Ross, in his own words:

“It’s never been more difficult to be working class or middle class in America going back to the 1930s. I say that not as a polemic but just as a matter of statistical fact. The degree to which there is not just stagnation but the steady erosion of well-being, purchasing power, quality of life for everyday working Americans is real, and it’s rooted in fact. Globalization cuts both ways. On the one hand, it creates opportunities for very quick upward economic mobility for people who have the skills to compete and succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. But it really hurts those who lack those skills.

You know, the ability to get a job based on the strength of your shoulders with which you can feed your family and for which you have health insurance—those good old union wage jobs are largely gone, and I really don’t see them coming back for the most part. Even advanced manufacturing jobs—and advanced manufacturing is certainly back on the rise here in the United States—those require a set of skills that you’re not going to get with a vocational education degree from high school. So I think that in a global economy made up of 7.2 billion people from 196 countries, being American does not advantage you in the way it did in decades past because of the nature in which competition for labor, competition over human capital is now global.

People in Baltimore are not competing against people in Pittsburgh and Cleveland for jobs. People in Baltimore are competing against people in Bangalore. And so what this means is that education needs to become life long—it’s not just something you do in high school or college. It also means people have to be comfortable with increasing mobility in their work lives. And the sum of it is that life is only going to get more difficult for working class and middle class Americans as our economy grows increasingly interconnected and increasingly global.”

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About Farai Chideya

Farai has combined media, technology, and socio-political analysis during her 20-year career as an award-winning author and journalist. She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She contributes to print, public radio, and cable television; and she also hosts a series of town hall meetings in both New York and San Francisco, with New York Public Radio and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, respectively. You can see an archive of her 2010 midterm election specials -- which foreshadowed some of the current political and immigration debates -- at PopandPolitics.com, which she founded in 1995.