Trade school. The military. Starting a business. Starting a nonprofit. Investing in real estate. All over the internet, there is a list of already suggested solutions to the student loan crisis and the employment crisis. Everyone feels excessively confident that with any one of these solutions, people will be able to overcome the rising cost of living and be able to resume existing as the traditional middle class. Therein lies the crux of all of these suggestions: the existence of the traditional middle class with the assumption of a single-family home, nuclear family, and all the socioeconomic accoutrements thereof. In this new year, people need to start facing the facts that offering catchall solutions with no real analysis is how society became entrapped in this crisis from the beginning. Not addressing institutional problems while offering institutional solutions is delusional; all of these solutions require more deep-diving and self reflection before the privileged elite are granted even more autonomy of the everyday individuals.
First and foremost, there are so many social expectations of who does what in this society. So many Black people have had the police called on them for doing supposedly normal jobs that it becomes increasingly insensitive to expect any Black person to see many options as “solutions.” Likewise, there are reams of evidence that when women attempt to do certain jobs, social expectations of women get in the way of true “success.” If the world puts psychological limitations on itself for who does what, there is a demographic glut in certain fields that allows people to take those gluts for granted. Unless people deal with their biases, telling anyone to just do [fill in the blank] is code for, “I refuse to actively engage with the problem that my biases have created.”
Frequently, there is an expectation that one demographic group should be supported by just that demographic group, while other demographic groups should be supported by everyone. As long as this premise remains locked in place, people from the global majority will never gain any traction in any country. Yes, people should support those in their local communities, but if there is a global economy, there should be a corresponding global expectation that anyone can do any job without reservation. It is not reasonable to expect that entire countries and populations are good for nothing but menial labor or low-skilled positions while others are seen as “first-world” nations. Brilliance exists even without the ability to showcase one’s talents, and wealth has been historically based on exploitation, not talent.
When people from various backgrounds started excelling in certain fields, those fields sought to protect their territories by creating barriers in the name of “expertise.” Even though someone may have an aptitude for a certain skill, licensing and equipment costs are born by many tradespeople without any guarantee of a return. Real estate requires exorbitant amounts of capital as well as licensing. All of this says nothing about the time it takes to become licensed, the access to tests and training, and the fact that most licenses expire, requiring the holders to reestablish their competence and sentencing them to financial distress if they have not managed to sway the general public in their favor. Most people maintain that these sorts of barriers are necessary to sustain trust in a profession, but how many people are truly ready to consider that these barriers also create biases?
While there are many “honorable professions,” i.e. jobs that people want done regardless of circumstances, many of those “honorable professions” are paid dishonorable wages. Military salaries are low, but whenever the military budgets are increased, the money is spent on automation, not on soldiers in the lowest ranks lured by promises of college funding and professional training. People expect office buildings to be clean, but many of those cleaning crews are lowly paid contractors with no benefits. Moreover, because most of humanity prefers not to see certain people doing what is necessary to create the illusion of productivity, most of these workers are forced to live on the margins, incurring extra costs for the commutes. If any job requires dishonesty to validate its existence, that job should be evaluated or eradicated.
Finally, most of the trade work, sales jobs, and programming are being taken over by large corporations. This is not a mistake because society worships people who have money to acquire the skills of others. Instead of respecting the individual right to perform tasks, society demands that individuals prostrate themselves before those who build systems that cater to the ultra elite. The only places where people are somewhat protected are predominantly European countries, which (unsurprisingly) have a Eurocentric view of who should be taking advantage of those protections. Healthcare, living wages, sustainable client bases, etc. all depend on the idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to build up their skills. This is simply not true, especially for people who depend on grants and crowdfunding to manage their existence.
It is time to reconsider how life is done and who benefits from its perpetuation as is. Morality is not defined by who has been able to manipulate the system in their favor, so the system should not be propped up as an idol to solve problems. The ideal life that harms none is not going to look like something that already exists, and that is what people truly fear. Taking a good look at how communities are built and dreams are fulfilled is going to result in some community shake-ups and dreams being denied. Society cannot maintain the “traditional middle class.” That lie was never true, and it should be over now.