Seven LEAN Years: America's New High-Tech Underclass (ISBN 0-9671089-0-X)
What this book is aboutEnter the Shattered Windows Bookroom
How I figured out the paradigms in this book
What this book is about
Trying to get a "good" job -- that is to say, a job that is above the national median income of approximately $14 per hour as of 1998 -- is getting harder and harder for a surprising new demographic in America. While the conventional wisdom and the media "talking heads" keep on droning endlessly about a supposed "high-tech labor shortage," the reality of the labor situation in the early twenty-first century is far different from a shortage. The truth about the economic desolation of the American middle class is being hidden by a barrage of press releases emanating from professional spin-doctors who have an agenda that is in opposition to aspirations of the mainstream American high-tech worker.
Unemployment among older American high-tech workers is skyrocketing. Engineers and software programmers, in particular, are theoretically the most in demand; yet engineers and software programmers over age fifty are destitute. If a person of this age group prefers to stay out of management and instead use their highly-trained skills and experience to do real work, this person is looked upon as some kind of a dinosaur, an ignorant buffoon who is socially inept and ready for the scrap-heap. Unemployment among this group of older workers is roughly one in five. Underemployment -- the condition of working in a low-wage job because no appropriate high-wage position is available -- is anywhere from 20% to 80% of this group. Age discrimination in the high-tech fields is now so pervasive that it has become an accepted cultural norm.
While employment consultants and think-tanks moan and groan about the need for "constant retraining" and to "update your skills," this is simply a smokescreen. Tens of thousands of engineers and programmers have taken up-to-date Java and networking classes, computer skills training, and refresher courses, and yet they are denied high-wage employment as fiercely as ever. This is apparently not just about age; numerous cases of college fresh-outs being denied work are also reported. Many of these scholarly individuals have perfect grades in demanding fields such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Yet they are rejected over and over by the same companies that weep and beg to Congress for special immigration privileges so they can bring in tens of thousands of wage-busters from mainland China and India each year.
Furthermore, the situation for sharp, intelligent people with strong moral values is grave. Anyone who may be a potential future "whistle blower" or who dares question a managerial decision is denied employment or fired. Employees in the high-tech sector are expected to conform to the technically illiterate management class not merely in office politics, but in life-and-death design issues as well. Telling the truth about medicines that don't work, computer software that is improperly designed, or electronic devices that are unreliable can often be a ticket on a fast track to the lower class -- or even the cemetery.
Once thrown off the so-called "career escalator," life will often consist of a series of high-skill, low-wage jobs such as computer technician or electronic repairman. Millions of "overqualified" Americans are working as box packers, store clerks, and busboys instead of using their hard-won, expensive mental training in a high-wage job. Something is deeply, gravely wrong with a savage economic system that craves youth, political correctness, and cheap foreign labor while shunning the old, the smart, and the straight-arrow citizens.
How I figured out the paradigms in this book
I began asking myself some hard questions after a very disappointing job interview. I began to see a frightening pattern emerging in the search for jobs; every interviewer seemed to already have a decision made before even talking to me. Worse yet, it was almost impossible to get a face-to-face interview with anyone. Using e-mail to send out hundreds of resumes was pointless. Something in my background was apparently a "black mark" causing me to be "blacklisted" from consideration for work. The only jobs I could get were dirt-cheap grunt work as a PC repairman or a furniture mover, despite several years at NASA and a sterling academic record. My B.S. in Electrical Engineering (Magna Cum Laude) at Clemson University was seemingly ignored by every job interviewer. Shockingly, my M.S. in Electrical Engineering at CalTech was viewed with deep suspicion and even a taste of hatred. It was as if everything that I had worked for my entire life had branded me as an evil outcast in a world bent on mediocrity at all costs.
I joined an Internet discussion list that focused on the growing movement among high-tech companies to cut off American workers, particularly those over age forty, and replace them with temporary workers imported from India, China, and other countries. These substitute workers typically stay for six years, are unable to acquire green card status, and are sent home. Meanwhile, the work they do during their stay is under sweatshop conditions of long hours, poor pay, and little or nothing in the way of benefits. Young foreign workers are being used as some kind of high-tech field hands in order to allow major corporations to outsource their labor expenses, making them very attractive investment vehicles for Wall Street stock specialists. I began to realize that instead of being an exception, my own experiences were actually the *norm* for highly-skilled U.S. citizens who are over age thirty but not in management positions.
I started comparing the "cover stories" used by the high-tech industry with the "cover stories" used by the Clinton White House, and I began to realize that they were cut from the same cloth. I then recognized the paradoxical "prosperity" of the 1990's for what it really is: a hoax, a sham, a grand deception that ignores how much unpaid labor people must contribute via take-home work, multi-wage families, and uncompensated overtime. The rising level of stress under this regime can now easily be explained. This is why unplanned office absences in America have risen 25% in the past seven years, a period of so-called prosperity. It became obvious why hospitals were largely empty shells while over forty million Americans were denied medical care and insurance coverage. It was clear why the stock market had risen more in the last seven years than in the previous one hundred years. There was no longer any reason to question the motivation behind the 500,000 U.S. high-tech layoffs that had occurred in 1998.
And it became easy to see why the whole corrupt economy is slowly grinding high-tech people into dust.
"Interrupting himself in mid-sentence, he ordered, "Unbutton that suitcoat! You look like Richard Nixon!" Remaining calm to this obvious attempt at an insult, I slowly raised both hands with the characteristic V-for-Victory sign and gruffly moaned, "I am not a crook." Then I unbuttoned my coat." - page 2
"The ultimate black mark on a person's record is to prove, with mathematical precision and scientific accuracy, that a corporate decision is wrong. Prove your boss a liar or a fool, not with mere accusations, but with hard evidence and irrefutable logic. In that case, you will become persona non grata and a "dangerous man." If you dare apply the laws of nature to prove someone wrong, he or she will almost always take it as a personal insult instead of a helpful nudge in the direction of improved products and better results." - page 14
"The oft - quoted figure of 346,000 unfilled U.S. high-tech jobs is a phony abuse of statistics; I can play the same game with used-car numbers. "There were 600,000 unsold used cars in America last month, proving that there is no demand for used cars." A statistic is useless without context; what if 340,000 of those same positions were filled within 90 days? That would mean that less than 25,000 long-term unfilled positions existed last year -- far from a serious situation .... The existence of a market surplus of white-collar labor is also shown by the poor wage growth of this labor sector for the past ten years. In fact, white-collar workers who are not at the executive-board level are still paid less per hour today (in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars) than they were in 1988!!" - page 18
"....expensive game machines running a Microsoft environment are foolishly considered "advanced" and "up- to-date," despite their poor performance and frequent data corruption. A form of immune response takes place when a job-seeker is invited to tour the plant: "How do you feel about Windows95?" "Oh, you actually like using DOS?" "Are you still using OS/2?" The interviewers nod and wink knowingly -- here's somebody they can immediately strike off their list of candidates, because he or she does not automatically approve of trendy gee-whiz products. Here's somebody who insists on focusing on work instead of play, on being productive instead of being "hip" or "cool." He or she is not "one of us" and therefore cannot "join the club."" - page 27
"However, add in the hidden wedge of 30% or even 40% of wages siphoned off by a resume-search mill. Now the employer is told, "I'm sorry, worker R is only available at ($15/0.7) $21 per hour." The prospective worker is told, "I'm sorry, but this job will only pay ($20*0.7) $14 per hour." Now we have both unemployed workers and understaffed companies. The intermediary agencies thus act as reverse labor unions that reduce employment opportunities, reduce wages, and limit access to the labor force -- which is the exact opposite of what they were ostensibly designed to do." - page 37
"Of course, comments like Hillary Clinton's infamous "who cares about a few thousand undercapitalized businesses?" don't help matters. Withdrawing from the shelter of the workplace removes a lot of the access to capital that such a structure brings, but that is the price that must be paid for freedom. Being self-employed among the working poor is tough, because you know what the codewords in her statement really mean. It's like waking up one morning as a dog, except that you're smart enough to recognize the horror of it all." - page 50
"Smart enough not to resist, Fred reached for the cash to hand it over. At that moment the helmet held loosely under his left arm slipped. Reaching instinctively for the helmet startled the thug, who reflexively squeezed off a round. Fred slumped against the ATM, spilling blood all over the shiny metal console, and then onto the clean, white concrete onto which he collapsed. The instant before he died, Fred heard the roar of the Harley as it sped away into the crisp night air." - page 56
"The whole operation often has all the trademark foresight of the crew of the Titanic: don't worry, we'll find a way through this maze, we're indestructible, we're smarter than everyone else. Hospitals have been on a twenty-year binge of computer buying, software patching, and management self-delusion, but the top brass insist that they are on the verge of finally making everything work. Now they foolishly want to trust the baffling, chaotic products from Microsoft, particularly the unreliable kludge called Windows NT. (New Titanic?)" - page 66
"Third, much of the "busy work" of product packaging, shipping, duplication, distribution, and even telephone sales are farmed out to America's state prisons. A good behavior record can allow an inmate with a 20-year sentence to sit at a computer screen with a telephone headset and sell mail-order trinkets for ten or twelve hours a day, taking your credit card number and address and making personal notes about who to visit when the sentence is up and he finally gets out -- or just escapes. Private firms have made lucrative deals with prisons in state after state to take good-paying jobs out of the free economy and turn them into $1-an-hour prison jobs. While a state may mandate minimum wage for the prison workers, the private management company usually deducts a substantial portion of the wage to pay for "management costs," "meals," and "training." The result is a huge distortion in the wage levels for American workers on the outside. .... For example, Microsoft farmed out much of its non- programming work related to delivering Windows95 products to a third-party "fulfillment company" which used the captive labor at the Twin Rivers Corrections Center in Washington State to package software and computer mice." - pages 74-75
"Those who point to the fast-rising stock market as a sure sign of American prosperity should take a closer look at the evidence. In 1998 the U.S. stock market as a whole rose about 27% in value, yet about two-thirds of the stocks were actually net losers for the year. One-third of Standard & Poor's $1.5 trillion growth in 1998 was tied to just seven stocks. The real meaning of the rise in the stock market is that the vast majority of the country's wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a small group of highly-leveraged, monopolistic companies whose stock capitalization drives the overall market level. .... Even those supposedly successful high-tech corporations are not always as prosperous as they seem. A recent front-page article in Upside magazine called "Cooking the Books" gives several examples of this new shell-game accounting scandal." - pages 88-89
"Does this quote sound like the National Science Foundation? "American students are expected to get out of scientific and technological work after graduation and move into management as soon as possible once they have secured employment." In other words, laboratory research and technological innovation were classified as undesirable flunkie jobs by members of the NSF itself. These "worthless" jobs were to be occupied by legions of cheap imported workers. The real goal of a handful of self-appointed experts within the NSF was to build a two-tiered workplace with Americans occupying highly-paid managerial positions and immigrants manning the low-wage scientific and engineering jobs." - pages 101-102
"Now the bill was on its way to the U.S. Senate. Despite polls indicating that 75% to 85% of Americans disagreed with doubling the high-tech immigration level, the pro-immigration lobbyists cranked up the money machine. Michigan Republican Senator Spencer Abraham became the point man for the clever swindle job. Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin became his reluctant opponent -- "reluctant" in the sense that the media was carefully coached by spinmeisters such as Harris Miller of the ITAA to classify any opposition to the impending flood of new high-tech foreigners as either xenophobic, technophobic, or both." - page 106
"Where else could I go? No Americans would hire me after reading my impressive resume; the nearby Pakistani computer company only hinted at a job but never made an offer. Of course, I did not mind working for the Russians; I had worked for blacks, for Chinese, and for various other ethnic groups before. I had learned one thing: money is green for everybody. Help the company make money and you will have the approval of the boss. So that is what I set out to do. Yet this business was stuck in some kind of twilight zone of fear of errors coupled with repetition of previous mistakes." - page 119
"So far, most of the high-tech discards have deluded themselves into thinking that sooner or later they will find a great job that provides remuneration appropriate to their talents and abilities. In just a few more years, however, the stark, chilling reality of abandonment will finally begin sinking in for millions of these outcasts. One day, very soon now, these middle-aged intellectual giants will suddenly wake up to the truth and realize that they have no realistic hope of participating in society as valued, appreciated individuals once they have been eliminated from the mainstream workforce. What kind of rage do you think will result from this awakening?" - page 127
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