In times of historically low unemployment, communities are simply wasting public money when they subsidize unskilled manufacturing jobs. The jobs, jobs, jobs mantra only makes sense in conditions of unemployment, unemployment, unemployment.
Despite relatively low unemployment, ‘community development men’ in places like Whitewater still push business subsidies for companies using unskilled labor. Pretending that dead-end jobs at a recycling plant are valuable positions at a state-of-the-art facility is a bureaucrat’s way of making subsidies to an employer look like gains for employees. (It’s also a newspaper stringer’s way of ingratiating himself with local cronies and not reporting on public projects seriously.)
Pretending sows’ ears are silk purses offers communities and workers false hope by encouraging dead-end jobs at public expense, with scant wages, in poor conditions. The big gain comes to corporate employers, who can use the subsidies to profit at taxpayers’ expense.
A small rural town – with a university, of all advantages – should be leaning toward that university to assure an emphasis on post-secondary studies and skilled training. The data are clear that rural communities benefit from an emphasis on post-secondary studies.
John Austin asks and answers in What do Midwest working-class voters want and need?:
But what do these workers want and need? The President and his allies on the right offer a mixture of economic nostalgia, crass nativism, and trade wars. Many on the left (though not Biden himself) promise a guaranteed income for underemployed and out-of-work populations.
Yet evidence suggests that most of these voters ultimately want the “dignity of work” via a good-paying job. With labor markets tightening and employers facing skills gaps—even in places like Detroit, Cleveland, and others across the former Rust Belt—the only path to that good job and concomitant dignity runs through higher levels of postsecondary education.
Today the region’s workers are facing an economy that demands greater skills and technical training beyond high school. Beginning 40 years ago, under competitive pressures to cut costs and improve quality, the region’s employers dramatically restructured their business models, leading to the loss of many good-paying, lower-skill jobs in Midwest communities. Where once five workers bolted fenders on the auto assembly line, today one worker with a higher level of education and training may program and monitor robots to do the same amount of work.
If it should be true that communities should lean toward nearby colleges, then it’s just as important that these colleges send into nearby communities those who care for residents who are struggling. (The opposite of what’s needed would be a college employee who merely wants to be noticed for being noticed, and reflexively embraces others of the same ilk, defending every local expression of babbittry in a circle of mutual back-patters.)
Community development in small rural communities like Whitewater means outreach to the disadvantaged, the encouragement of residents’ further schooling, a rejection of business welfare, and an openness to newcomers without expectation that they’ll fall into line behind yesterday’s (and today’s) failed cronyism.