What do the elevator attendants do in the information age?

I had all kinds of ideas for a really insightful post about building codes, redevelopment and the relative value of buildings empty or full brewing in my head yesterday inspired by the post on Dayton Most Metro: “Restrooms, Elevators and Sprinklers- Oh My!”

Then life took me on a different path.

My tenant of 6 years moved out over the weekend with help from her family. She lost her job as a cytologist back in September. A cytologist, for those of you not in the high-tech medical field- prepared and examined pap smears under a microscope to detect cancer. Yes, it’s another field that computers will soon make obsolete, but for now, it’s still a critical skill. She’d been doing it for at least 18 years. It’s a quota job- examine X per day, with a 95%+ correct rate and all is good.

Except she is mentally ill, and once she lost her job due to a bout with her illness, she was unable to get back up and back to work. In fact, she was unable to do much. Answering the door, the phone, using an answering machine- all critical job seeking skills, were beyond her ability. Note, she also had a bachelor’s degree in psychology. It’s not like we’re dealing with someone with limited intelligence.

A case worker could have done a lot to stop her from going from a contributing member of society to a burden, however, our health-care system is more like buying protection from serious injury by the mob (the insurers) than actually having access to basic, pro-active, preventive medicine. But we do have insurance company CEOs making $144 million in a year.

This piece won’t make sense to many people younger than me. They don’t know what an elevator attendant is. The only place I know where one still exists is in Mendelsons Liquidation Outlet, where rather than putting in modern elevators, Mr. Mendelson opted to pay someone minimum wage to run his old elevator with a manual lever for stopping on each floor- and opening and closing the old doors. Over time, the elevators would have been cheaper to replace- but that job will never exist again.

We’ve done as much as we can to eliminate work suited for the less fortunate, or jobs that suck. We don’t bend over and pick cotton anymore. We still need people to pick fruit- but, few Americans do it- even in America.

When it comes to finding jobs that pay for those who are mentally, physically or challenged by circumstance, there are few jobs left. Sure, you can become a janitor/cleaning person, but this doesn’t have aspirational appeal in our collective “American Dream.”

In what may seem like a total disconnect, my thinking heads to ways to reach that dream. In America we lionize the lucky. We still believe that through hard work, anything is possible, when in fact, hard work alone is not enough anymore for many, because we’ve found it easier to off-shore it.

It’s one of the reasons selling drugs is one of the last bastions of hope for the downtrodden. It’s why there is an illicit drug market- how better to escape reality than taking a trip without having to go anywhere for less than $20 for some crack or smack.

No one in “economic development” likes to admit it, but the reason so many jobs have left this country is because survival in China and India and other, less fortunate places than America is linked to doing jobs that allow people to reach their aspirational existence, even if their dream may only be to eat and have shelter. We’ve stopped caring about those people in this country, unless it directly affects someone we are related to, or you are one of those who still has a soul.

As long as we can get it cheaper at WalMart, all is good.

It’s the people with a soul who still think about it. Prompted by a discussion with his pastor, one of those living the American Dream was having an internal debate about the gap between the rich and poor. He was trying to justify his lavish life through the knowledge that he was creating jobs. I follow him on twitter @larryvc and his tweet was:

Blog post: On The Disparity Between Rich and Poor. Hope I don’t regret this one! » link to On The Disparity Between Rich and Poor « Thinking About Thinking

“I hope I don’t regret this one.”

Do you think drug dealers have similar thoughts? Self-examination by the Wall Street crowd is healthy, however, second-guessing life on the street is deadly. We’ve created a system of extremes, and now, we’ll suffer the consequences.

No matter how successful a VC or Wall Street maven is, the disconnect from the rest of society will end up affecting them. Because jobs aren’t the answer to everything, but they sure do make a difference for everyone.

We can’t all be knowledge workers in the “creative class.” And as smart as we think we are, we still need to give people something productive to do, even if it is inefficient. We need a way that everyone can participate, even if they are elevator attendants. I hear cries of socialism, but, when you balance in the costs to society, which is more inefficient, paying for prisons or life-saving measures on a gang shooting, or paying people to operate a metaphorical elevator?

Think about it next time you push a button to go up or down, you’ve contributed to our collective problem.

Have a happy Memorial Day. Thank our veterans for giving us the opportunity to create jobs in Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, Vietnam and now in Afghanistan and Iraq. From a veteran who obviously has issues with what we’ve done in our country for our own people.

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