Best columns: Business
What if computer programmers are the next generation of blue-collar workers? asked Clive Thompson. “When I ask people to picture a coder, they usually imagine someone like Mark Zuckerberg.” But the typical programmer isn’t a hoodie-wearing brainiac who builds “an app in a feverish 72-hour programming jag” with the aim of getting insanely rich. This programmer probably doesn’t even live in Silicon Valley, which “employs only 8 percent of the nation’s coders.” Most programmers work 9-to-5 jobs doing important, unglamorous work, like writing code for their local bank. It’s not a path to fame and fortune, but it is a solidly middle-class job. The average IT worker in the U.S. earns about $81,000 a year, “more than double the national average for all jobs,” and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, outpacing most other professions. Coding today isn’t a “high stakes, sexy affair,” but “the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant.” Teachers and businesses should wake up to that new reality, stop urging kids to take expensive four-year computer science degrees, and instead push for more coding in high schools and community colleges. We’ll always need superstar innovators to devise new fields, like artificial intelligence. But most programming doesn’t require genius, just hard, honest work.
Big companies are getting stingier
Harvard Business Review
“For much of the 20th century, workers at big companies were paid better than workers at small ones,” said Walter Frick. An employee of a corporation with more than 500 workers generally took home 30 to 50 percent more than someone in the same role at company with fewer than 25 employees. But since the late 1980s, the pay advantage for workers at big companies has disappeared—although not for those in high-salary jobs—and researchers say that change has helped fuel the rise in income inequality. One possible explanation for the demise of the salary gap is that big companies used to directly employ more kinds of workers. They felt pressure to pay cafeteria workers and janitors above market rate “because inequality was bad for morale.” But many low-level positions were outsourced in the 1990s as companies focused on generating more profits for shareholders and firms brought in cheaper contractors. An alternate explanation, put forward in an Obama administration report from last year, is that the biggest companies no longer fear competition, and so can get away with paying lower wages than they would in a competitive labor market. What’s clear is that something in the job market has changed. Economists used to believe that companies that could afford to pay higher wages would do so. “That no longer seems to be the case.”