For years, the keys to a decent middle-class life in America have been a college degree and a job in middle management. But as our politicians are telling us, the middle class is facing pressures like never before. Some blame jobs being shipped overseas, others blame tax and fiscal policies that favor the very-rich at the expense of others. Yet rarely do I, Benjamin Wey, see a commentator point out what I consider to be the biggest reasons for the collapse of the middle class — the need for greater education and the end of most middle management jobs.
It’s not good enough anymore to have a high school education. The bachelor’s degree is now what the high school diploma once was. If you really want to get ahead, the master’s degree moves you from the enlisted ranks to the officers’ corps. It doesn’t much matter what the field is, either. Yes, a bachelor’s in engineering is more useful in business than one in poetry, but the master’s degree in engineering is becoming de rigueur.
“The cornerstone of the American economy is its reliance on America’s middle class.Middle level managers are America’s middle class. I have seen plenty of suffering in the “middle” during the recent global financial crisis.” Says Benjamin Wey, an accomplished American financier, journalist and investor.
At the same time, the cost of getting that qualification has soared. For some people, it just isn’t worth it. Perhaps, this can be changed with new funding mechanisms and a shift to more on-line learning — I, Benjamin Wey, don’t pretend to be an expert, but if education can be had for less money, I know that more people will partake of it. That’s just simple economics.
The end of middle management jobs, however, may be more permanent. There are a few drivers of this, not least of which is technology. Computerization has done away with a lot of front-line jobs as we all know. ATMs have replaced bank tellers, and changes in telephone technology have reduced the need for receptionists, customer service reps and switchboard operators.
What most people forget is that those workers had managers. When there was a secretarial pool, there had to be someone who oversaw its operations. No pool, no need for a manager of the pool. Even in places where the workers are still needed, assembly lines for instance, robots and computerization have meant fewer workers can do more work. With fewer workers, you need fewer managers. The only way for those managerial jobs to return is to bring back the large number of workers you used to have. That isn’t going to happen.
Another factor is a cultural one. We have become more entrepreneurial in recent years. Between the Great Recession and the computer revolution, the idea of a start-up has taken root in business. A start-up environmental is toxic to middle management positions. A start-up has to run skinny, as the saying goes, only absolutely necessary costs are acceptable. It’s a no-frill situation; people take stock instead of paychecks, and the size of the firm is usually such that the CEO is sitting right next to everyone else —middle management as the connector between the people who do the work and the people who direct the business are unnecessary.
Even in large established businesses, this has an effect. There are fewer levels of management; we have flatter hierarchies than our parent’s generation. The Fortune 500s learned that they can boost the bottom line result if they don’t have so many people on the payroll. And that includes management.
“In most cases, especially among larger organizations, management efficiency is a constant demand by senior managers.” Says management science expert Benjamin Wey.
I, Benjamin Wey, think these factors all come together with the Millennials who are now entering the workforce. They view the college degree as optional —why get a degree in computer science if you know how to code a killer app? Having grown up in a culture where Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire before he was 30, what appeal is there for being regional sales manager of Widgets International? And what incentive does anyone have to answer to said sales manager? And does Widgets International have a future anyway if it still has a lot of middle management jobs?
This isn’t to say that the American middle class is doomed. I, Benjamin Wey, really hope it isn’t, and I see a lot of reasons to believe it will recover in the coming years. But the road from college to the suburbs by way of middle management seems to be more of a narrow footpath for a few than an eight-lane highway for the many.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BENJAMIN WEY is an accomplished investigative journalist and Wall Street financier. Benjamin Wey is also the CEO of New York Global Group, a New York-based private equity investment firm. Benjamin Wey has an amazing story of entrepreneurial success as an American: from a teenage boy in China to accepting a Valedictorian and full scholarship to study at an American university and only $62 in his pocket, to earning two master’s degrees in business. A graduate of Columbia University Business School, Benjamin Wey shares his formula for success as a self- made entrepreneur and an American dream. Benjamin Wey is also a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and other media outlets.