Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Vagina Economy

Many economic development incentives are a waste of taxpayer money. They often involve a lot of handouts so one city, county, or state can make the same "leadership in biotech, greentech, whatevertech" claim as 47 other places. And while there are all kinds of clever studies talking about multiplier effects, the fact remains that far more people, even in regions like Boston and the SF Bay Area, work as nurses, teachers, or retail clerks, than as biomedical engineers. And most of the people doing these jobs spend more money on tampons than on jock straps.

Girls Gone Wild
One of the consequences of the rising costs of education and health care is that money is being directed out of the techie-finance economy that existed in the late 90s to professions like teaching, nursing, social work - all of which are needed everywhere, and are done mostly by women.

According to Bureau of Labor Stats and Nat'l Education Association Data, 80% of teachers, 81% of social workers and 94% of nurses are women. Women comprise nearly a third of all doctors, up from 7% in 1970. These professions that involve caring for people continue to grow while banking, computer programming, and other predominantly male professions continue to get squeezed by productivity gains and outsourcing.

3rd Grade Teachers Don't Have to Double their Productivity every Four Years
While states and counties are falling all over themselves to attract new greentech manufacturing plants, greentech manufacturing is heading out of the country to find cheaper labor, while increasing the productivity of the workers remaining in the U.S. Four years ago, First Solar generated about $300,000 in revenue per manufacturing employee, today it produces over $600,000. Hiring is never going to come anywhere close to the increase in product shipments. Yet this hasn't stopped econ development officials from competing against one another for a plant that might employ 200 people if market conditions remain strong, all while the company building it feels a strong pull to head out to a cheap labor market like the Phillipines or Malaysia, where SunPower and First Solar are building new plants.

Teachers, nurses, and social workers don't get outsourced to the Phillipines, nor do they work for companies under intense financial pressure to increase productivity. 30 years ago teachers didn't have 80% fewer kids in the classroom. And even though social workers and nurses can be pressured to handle a lot of cases, they aren't about to get automated out of existence like many manufacturing workers. As a result, their numbers are poised to keep growing, regardless of how technology advances.

By my estimate, at least 30 states think they are in the top 10 for biotech or greentech. But can anyone name a place that's leading innovation in social work practice? nursing? teaching?

The reality is that many jobs of the future will be in fields dominated by women, and they'll provide a lot more stability and growth than a solar manufacturing facility. Moreover, no one has staked the claim as a leader in recruiting these professions, providing plenty of opportunity for one place to be known as the leading region in these personal services professions. Econ dev authorities would also do themselves a favor if they ditched all their traditional stock photos of science workers, and replaced them with MILFs and recent female grads - that would do a lot more to attract men than pictures of lab coat people staring at test tubes.

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