FEBRUARY 25, 2017 -- BY JIM NEFF
THE NEFF ZONE
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Nothing exists in isolation. Very few issues have just a single layer, so what's on the surface is often misleading. Sometimes peeling back the layers reveals complications that are not visible at first look.
An example of this is the topic of public school education. The for-profit proponents would have you believe that just opening up the field to more free-market schools will solve all the country's school problems. It may not be as easy as that.
Answer this question. What do Montana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas, Florida, California, Washington, Minnesota, and Nevada all have in common? The answer is that if you go to Google, click the News tab, and type “teacher shortage” into the search box, these are the first ten states that come up as experiencing a lack of teachers.
It's difficult to open more schools when there are not enough teachers to staff the existing schools. “The teacher shortage crisis is here, at least according to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute, and it stands to get worse. At a time when public school enrollment is on the upswing, large numbers of teachers are headed for retirement or leaving the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions in a profession seen as less desirable than it once was.
Plus, there are not enough new teachers in the pipeline. “Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping dramatically, falling 35 percent nationwide in the last five years. New teachers leave at rates of somewhere between 19-30 percent over their first five years of teaching. Southern and Midwestern cities have the highest rates of teacher turnover. (https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/coming-crisis-teaching-brief and https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/understanding-teacher-shortages-interactive)
In Michigan, the situation is similar. The number of people receiving teaching certificates is dropping significantly. The numbers fell from 6,058 during the 2009-10 school year to 4,559 during the 2015-16 school year, according to the latest figures from the Michigan Department of Education. (http://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2016/12/25/michigan-substitute-teachers-shortages/95622652/)
Obviously, you can't run a school without teachers. Those teachers are the main expenditure for a school. For-profits pay their teachers around $8,000-$10,000 less and therein lies the source of the profits. It will be interesting to see what happens when the profit margin theory collides with the reality of supply-and-demand.
Another seemingly simple topic is jobs. All you have to do is build a wall and threaten some companies with tariffs and manufacturing plants will automatically spring up and all Americans will have jobs. There may be more to it that that.
Billionaire Mark Cuban said this week: “The president is missing a key factor when it comes to job creation. I'm willing to bet these companies building new manufacturing plants are going to end up (with) fewer people being employed and there is nothing President Trump can do to stop that because of the trends in technology — machine learning, neural networks, deep learning, etc. — changing the nature of work. Trump's intentions may be good...however, companies are going to employ fewer people to get a lot more done.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/02/20/cuban-trump-cant-stop-rise-robots-and-their-effect-us-jobs/98155374/)
At the World Government Summit last week, another billionaire, Elon Musk, added: “What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human]. These are not things that I wish will happen. These are simply things that I think probably will happen.” These opinions are not pie in the sky. Two Oxford economists suggest that “45 percent of all US jobs could be automated away within the next 20 years.”
Take jobs related to driving, for instance. “Currently in the US, there are: 600,000 Uber drivers, 181,000 taxi drivers, 168,000 transit bus drivers, 505,000 school bus drivers, and around 1 million truck drivers.” Self -driving vehicles could end those jobs. It's worth noting that Uber just bought a self-driving truck company.
There are other sectors where humans are being replaced by robots or automation. These include the 8 million retail sales people and cashiers and the 14 million employed in restaurants. To see videos showing fully a automized warehouse, an automated restaurant, and robotized pizza delivery operation, go to: https://medium.freecodecamp.com/bill-gates-and-elon-musk-just-warned-us-about-the-one-thing-politicians-are-too-scared-to-talk-8db9815fd398#.m9lenjzcm.
These are just two two examples of how complicated issues cannot be dealt with in a simplistic fashion. This may be why so much time is being spent by ordinary citizens in discussing politics. However, even those discussions present their own problematic layers.
A recent survey by performance-management technology company BetterWorks revealed some interesting insights regarding political chit-chat in the workplace. “Eighty-seven percent of employees are reading political social media posts during the work day. We read an average of 14 political posts per work day, but that number goes up to 18 for millennials (21 percent say they read 20 or more). This equates to an average of 2 hours per day reading political social posts. Seventy-three percent have talked with their colleagues about politics since the election. Forty-nine percent of people have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument at work, and that number goes up to 63 percent for millennials.”
What is the result of all this conversation? Twenty-nine percent of workers say they are less productive since the election, and that number increases to 35 percent among those who read 10 or more political social media posts per work day.”
The bad news for workplace conversationalists is that robots hardly ever read social media posts or engage in political arguments. The good news for workplace conversationalists is that after robots take over all the the jobs, humans will have a lot more free time to debate the issues of the day.