A new report from the White House shows that participation in the labor force by prime-age men (ages 25 to 54) peaked in 1954 and has been declining steadily since the mid-1960s.
Unsurprisingly, less-educated men have experienced a much sharper drop-off in employment than those with college educations. “In 1964, 98 percent of prime-age men with a college degree or more participated in the workforce, compared to 97 percent of men with a high school degree or less,” the report explains. “In 2015, the rate for college-educated men had fallen slightly to 94 percent while the rate for men with a high school degree or less had plummeted to 83 percent.”
Over the decades, the manufacturing and other low-skill jobs that used to employ many of these men have disappeared. The factories have closed or been shifted outside U.S. borders to cut costs. Countless jobs have been lost due to automation and the robots taking over. The gist is, if your skill set and intelligence was so limited that you could be replaced by a cheaper worker or salary-free bot, then you’ve probably been put out of a job sometime over the past half-century. Is this fair? And should government policies implicitly support a trend that is turning a large portion of formerly hirable blue-collar workers into the unemployable?
Quite simply, compared to any other era in history, right now is “a terrible time to not be brainy,” David H. Freedman writes in an essay provocatively entitled “The War on Stupid People” in The Atlantic. Freedman argues that, in a matter of speaking, the revenge of the nerds has gone too far, and that the less intelligent, less educated members of society have been discriminated against and pushed to the bottom of the heap by a broad array of measures:
What’s to be done? Freedman writes that, for the good of all, “We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority.” Employers should reexamine job-hiring policies and reassess if college educations and high IQs are truly necessary for some positions. America’s education system should open and promote more career and technical education schools, because college clearly isn’t for everyone. These schools should focus them on food management, health technology, office administration, and classic trades like plumbing and auto mechanics, in addition to sexier but more challenging courses of study like engineering and mathematics.
Freeman argues that we must “begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity.” And yes, the government should get involved, Freeman says, by providing “incentives to companies that resist automation, thereby preserving jobs for the less brainy. It could also discourage hiring practices that arbitrarily and counterproductively weed out the less-well-IQ’ed.”
In other words, fewer jobs for robots and “smart” tech, more jobs for stupid people.