By Denise M. Michaels
The economic malaise we’ve felt for a long time pre-dates the Obama administration. It goes back before Bush2 and even Clinton. Back in the Bush1 days I predicted it. No, I’m not an expert in economics – but I have a knack for putting cause and effect together and responding to the tea leaves as I see them.
Decades ago I heard the term “New World Order” for the first time. While many jumped to conspiracy theories and treachery, I saw it differently. America was an island of uber-prosperity for decades in a world where millions, no billions of people on other continents always lived in abject poverty; barely keeping a roof over their heads and food in their tummies. Things were about to change.
I’m originally from Detroit and in the 1980s shocking events happened. The manufacturing jobs that made Motown strong for almost a century started leaving, moving to non-union states. Factory workers, with only a high school diploma raised their families for generations in sturdy, middle-class homes. If they were smart with their money they bought a little cottage “up north” and a boat to enjoy swimming and fishing in a nearby lake during vacation time. Unions got too powerful, too greedy.
Finally, those jobs left American shores completely for cheap labor in Asia. Though they weren’t getting rich, workers in poverty-stricken countries could finally count on three squares a day and a better roof over their head. Maybe their children or grandchildren would finish school or even attend college. Factory workers in the US collected unemployment and often downsized their lives selling off the boat and the cottage as benefits and paychecks were cut back.
When the internet gained steam in the late-1990s tech jobs started going overseas by the thousands. It didn’t help when then-Hewlitt Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said, “We owe no jobs to Americans.” She was out of that post by 2005, but the damage was done, the tides turned.
It wasn’t just big business utilizing foreign labor. Small entrepreneurs started hiring subcontractors from other countries from sites like Odesk, now called UpWork, to design websites, logos, graphic design, admin and do other tech work virtually while professionals in the US struggled, dropping their fees first and their standard of living next. Hundreds of thousands of customer service jobs moved to India and the Philippines. Workers in destitute countries were told, “These are jobs Americans don’t want.”
Score: India, China and other countries gain prosperity for the first time in centuries. Many US workers go from owning a dream home to renting a smaller home.
Companies downsized. Managers had to share assistants, if they still had one. Pensions were stripped. Technology that promised to lead to a four-day work week in the hopeful 1970s resulted in people now doing the work of three or more people in the 2000s. People already stressed from trying to keep up with three jobs were downsized or “rightsized.” Many were herded into large meeting rooms and given the bad news en masse.
The younger generation incessantly nips at the heels of their elders. More comfortable with technology, they don’t have big mortgages or concerns about retirement yet, so they’ll do the same job for far less pay.
Score: If they haven’t paid off their mortgage many Americans went from owning or renting a home to renting a condo or apartment. The cost of owning an apartment in downtown Beijing, Mumbai and other cities in developing nations jumps as new, pristine high-rise towers went up. A well-educated middle class that never existed before emerged from the poverty of previous generations.
Usher in “the dumbing down of America.” While people in other countries hunger for success and work tirelessly around the clock because prosperity appeared possible, millions of Americans dumb out. We didn’t want to look and see countries far away formerly considered “backward” were building skyscrapers to meet the new housing demand and becoming technology leaders.
Movies like “Dumb and Dumber” blew up and sadly, spawned sequels. Many rested on their laurels insisting, “America is the greatest country in the world” while our infrastructure crumbled. Government gridlock resulted in a refusal to fix old bridges, water systems, schools and more, keeping construction industry folks on the sidelines. Smart people were chided as “geeks” and too much attention went to Paris Hilton, South Park and other stupid pop culture that glorified dumb.
Usher in the banking and real estate debacle to an already fragile economy. I remember President Bush in the White House gravely announcing in September 2008 the economy was screeching to a halt as sources of credit dried up. This happened just before he scooted out of office to his spread in Crawford Texas.
As “too big to fail” banks who made greed a lifestyle were bailed out, consumer confidence and trust tanked in 2009 and our economy was shedding over 600,000 jobs a month. As jobs gradually started coming back a much smaller number of them were professional jobs that will support a family. Millions tired of the rat race either bowed out or were kicked out and started their own small businesses.
Stress in America grew more intense as young families cobble together two, three and four marginal jobs to pay the bills. Rising college costs put higher education out of reach for millions of Millennials.
So here we are. It’s 2016 and another Presidential election is inching toward us. People are angry and it’s easy to blame the current administration, CEO’s and politicians of every stripe.
Looking at the sea change over the last 25 years, a perfect storm of technology, globalization and greed has resulted in millions of American unwilling to wake up and pay attention. We’ve been through a shifting and balancing of wealth globally. The Standard of living has increased for people living on other continents. The new normal for many Americans is a lower standard of living. Though the President touts five percent unemployment, income inequality and stagnant earnings have become a big issue.
It’s shortsighted to blame one side of the political aisle. Putting the genie back in the bottle is ridiculous. People on the other side of the world won’t go back to eating fish heads to survive. I laugh when politicians say, “We have to take our country back again.” Take it back from what? From who? It’s a different country operating in a diversified world.
So what should you do?
Stay above the fray. Pay attention and get smart. Look for trends and innovate. Always look for ways to build trust with prospective customers and clients – starting with your social media presence.
In the midst of all this turbulence
- Apple has grown to the largest, richest business in the world. While visionary founder Steve Jobs is gone, new introductions of the latest product or upgrade are still greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.
- PayPal makes it possible to send money across your city to across the world with a couple clicks. No need to mail checks or even wire transfer funds.
- The Huffington Post, started by a governor’s ex-wife with a Greek accent and once scoffed at was sold for $300 million to AOL in 2011.
- AirBnB threatens rising hotel prices. People living in cities from SanFrancisco to Rome have a new “gig” income. The company, started in 2008 is now valued at $10 billion.
- The Fortune 500 looks totally different from a decade ago. Stalwarts that we assumed would last forever a generation ago didn’t survive in the great recession amidst massive changes in technology and communications.
Opportunity still exists in spades for those willing to grab the reins and take on the mantle of leadership. What’s a leader? As John Maxwell, author and speaker says, “A leader is someone willing to go first.” Are you willing to go first in this brave, new world?
As my business became less local and more virtual I asked:
- Where is the economy growing and people need what I offer?
- What currencies are strong where my fees look like a bargain?
- What can I provide and how can I build trust in the market on a shoestring, solopreneur budget?
I use PayPal, Skype, cloud services, email, DropBox, LinkedIn and more to get paid from anywhere and deliver the goods to anywhere.
I’ve gotten good at effortlessly converting between different time zones, currencies and Fahrenheit temperatures for Celsius. So even though a client might be a continent away when we talk they feel closer.
Instead of working harder to find business where I live, I branched out. I’ve enjoyed working with English-speaking clients in:
- New Zealand
- Great Britain
- … and all over America.
I refuse to use technology partners offshore. I saw firsthand how that gutted the automotive industry in Detroit. I look for the best prices I can find domestically. While it’s not always possible, I relish when I find great products Made in America.
I’ve become so busy the Starbucks meetings I used to do eight to ten times a week to meet with clients or prospective clients has dropped significantly. Skype meetings have grown. My Starbucks Gold Card is almost dormant these days. A national speaker and consultant whose a 45 minute drive away recently asked me to come to his office to meet in person. Hmmmm… haven’t decided if I should make the drive.
Look not just at what’s happening now, look ahead to how it’ll impact you and your industry in five years. Be curious. When you see an inkling of change on the horizon, don’t ignore it or wish it away. Follow the thread. Is it growing? Look at the people embracing new ways of doing things. Ask, “What was wrong with the old way?”
You may be a solopreneur like me or have a more substantial business. No matter what’s happening in your local economy, somewhere people are making money. Differentiate yourself, learn how to say a few words in a new language. Take an interest in people with lifestyles and cultures from across your borders or across the ocean. When you see the world in terms of global potential rather than with blinders on, the endless possibilities for growth open up in unlimited ways.
Denise M. Michaels is a ghostwriter and book coach. She helps CEOs, entrepreneurs, therapists, speakers and aspiring authors become recognizable and influential. Using the leverage a book provides you can become the go-to expert in your niche. Contact her by clicking here now.