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Inadvertent Humor

January 23, 2020 (738 words)

There’s a guy at work who considers me a radical left-wing socialist, because he sees that I sometimes read The New York Times in the break room, while eating my lunch.

This gentleman doesn’t realize I’m equally fond of the right-wing bible, The Wall Street Journal, when I can get my hands on it. Most of the convenience stores I frequent don’t carry it, and the ones that do only stock a few copies. So if you arrive late, you lose out.

The other day I was able to nab an edition of both papers, and sitting down to eat I opened up that day’s WSJ before even looking at the NYT.

Right there on the front page, below the fold, was a story brimming with the sort of inadvertent humor the Journal occasionally dabbles in.

“Skilled Workers Score Sweeter Perks to Move” appeared on Monday, January 13, and was written by Austen Hufford. I couldn’t wait to dig in and get the low-down on this fascinating subject.

“Manufacturers are paying relocation costs and bonuses to move new hires across the country at a time of record-low unemployment and intense competition for skilled workers.

“Half a million U.S. factory jobs are unfilled, the most in nearly two decades, and the unemployment rate is hovering at a 50-year low, the Labor Department said on Friday.

“At the same time, people are moving around the country at the lowest rate in 70 years.

“To entice workers to move, manufacturers are raising wages, offering signing bonuses and covering relocation costs, including for some hourly positions.”

Okay, then. Since our free market economy is said to rely on supply and demand to determine prices and wages, what sort of largesse is this fierce competition for skilled workers resulting in?

Well, the article reports that a whopping 1.6% of manufacturing positions listed on ZipRecruiter include a pledge to pay moving costs, up from 1% in 2017.

Just how much in moving costs are we talking about? The story quotes a Mr. Charlie Shoup, who relocated from Salt Lake City to Columbus, Nebraska, a small city of about 20,000 people approximately 90 miles west of Omaha. Mr. Shoup tells us he received $2,000.00 in relocation costs:

It pretty much gave me enough cash to pay for gas out here, get myself established with a solid place to live in a not-backwater part of Omaha, and then I got a couple of shirts with collars on them, he said”

How can anyone argue with gas money and a couple of shirts with collars on them?

But wait, “Companies are also raising wages. Wage growth at U.S. manufacturers reached its highest level since 2016 in December, rising 3% that month from a year earlier. The inflation rate in November was 2.1%.”

If you’re having trouble with the math, the net increase in wages The Wall Street Journal is crowing about is .9%.

The Journal also tell us “G.H. Todd & Mold, an auto-industry supplier owned by Tooling Tech Group LLC, increased it’s starting wage to about $18 an hour last year from $15 a few years ago.”

Again, for our slower readers, that translates into an annual salary of about $37,500, up from $31,200. Can you imagine trying to support your family on $37,500?

This is all part of the great de-unionization of the American workforce. As detailed in the Netflix documentary American Factory, union auto workers used to make $29 an hour with full medical and a pension. Now those same employees can be stuck earning as low as $12 an hour for an open-shop auto industry supplier, with only meager, payroll-deduction benefits being offered.

I don’t hold the journalist responsible for this short article to blame for the unintended irony.

Even though his piece amounts to a silly whitewash of a stark reality that has been trending in the wrong direction for years, he is probably just a young working stiff who was given a simple story to write, with an equally simple mandate to match the WSJ “house style” if he wants to keep his job.

But I do question the motives of his editors.

And I also wonder about the typical, highly successful WSJ reader, who I fear glances at a story like this and takes away just enough evidence to fuel a slightly smug and self-satisfied sense of “see, everything really is working out well for skilled workers in this economy.”

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
January 23, 2020

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