Saving the Collapse of the Middle Class

Elizabeth Warren Jefferson Memorial Lecture 

With $140/barrel crude oil and melting ice caps, the focal justifications for increased flexibility in the workplace have centred on the economic and environmental benefits. But a critical third resource is just as pivotal in the business case for dynamic work – people. While inexpensive energy and technological advances have been pillars of productivity growth, one of the greatest drivers to post-war growth has been new entrants into the labour force. Rosie the Riveter and a range of new occupations pulled the fairer sex into its ranks in the demands of wartime and the workforce never looked back.

The rise of women in the workplace has brought new freedoms and opportunities, but it has also brought with it new stresses and challenges. One of the best explorations of these challenges is Elizabeth Warren’s Jefferson Memorial Lecture at University California Berkeley “The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class” (see above).

Families are in essence now saying that they are largely content to provide two economic units in the workplace to continue to provide resources for growth and productivity, but with so much of the family human resource so engaged, something has to give on the business side. Without the resilience of a ‘homemaker’ to attend to the critical needs of ‘Family Incorporated,’ the businesses need to enable the flexibility for either of the adults to either (a) shift the timing of work, or (b) shift the location of work.

For example, if one needs to go home early to attend to a sick child/parent/boiler, they want to either be able to make it up in the evening or weekend or just shift the location of their work. This example is just one of many scenarios where the downside of having everyone of the adults in a given household working – either dual income or increasingly the rise of the single parent household – which are leading to increasing demands by these workers for a new mode of workstyle which is increasingly flexible and dynamic. The companies who exercise the vision and innovation to operate in these new modes will attract the best human capital at the most competitive prices.

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