Does America Still Work?


We have gotten more competitive and yet have the lowest unemployment we have ever had. That shows very strongly that what's happening is good, not bad. Yes, there's dislocations of people. It's hard in the interim, but an awful lot of people are getting better jobs than they had before, higher paying jobs, people are moving from the lower quartiles to the upper or middle quartiles. As I said, the American dream is alive and fact, I think it's an awful lot better than it was in the '80s when we weren't competitive.

Well, 1995 looks like the first year in a long time in which real wages went up rather than down, so there's hope. Some good American employers are now being able to expand employment again and that means that some workers are going to have rising living standards again and are going to be able to, at least for a while, get their piece of the American Dream. The problem is that most of the new jobs being created are not the jobs at Masterlock or at Chrysler. Most of the new jobs being created are relatively low wage jobs in companies that are not investing in their workers, or in their plants. And the proof of that is: you can argue we are close to full employment, but then why is it that anywhere in the United States when somebody announces that they are going to have ten openings at $15 per hour, why do 5,000 workers show up and camp overnight in hopes of getting one of those jobs?

You know, I think change produces anxiety, anxiety at the worker level, anxiety at the management level. Manufacturing in the United States has undergone terrific change in the last fifteen years, and I think that's created anxiety throughout the operation. But I think we hit our low point in the early or mid-eighties. I think manufacturing is doing better now. We're more cost-effective on a world basis than we ever were previously. So I think we're going to see things improve. As a matter of fact, they are improving now. I think we have created more jobs in the last three or four years than any comparable period for quite some time...So anxiety is part of the creative process...It's healthy.

This question of wage stagnation is a very interesting one. One of the ways to keep high wage jobs here is to have consumers pay higher prices. To the best of my knowledge, no one wants to give up the $300 television set from Japan to have it manufactured here. So we really have to look at this issue from both sides. If the consumer demands that they want commodity price and quality, then I as a manufacturer have to go out and try and deliver that as best I can. And I hope in the Harley case that we can do it as best we can by planning ahead and letting our employees know, starting with me, that at the end of the day we have to be cost competitive.

Our system is such that accountability is key. We cannot persist for a long period of time with one small slice of our society reaping all the rewards. I think the first half of the nineties was about rewarding shareholders. And I think the second half of the decade is going to be a clear discussion about how to ship some, but not all, of those rewards back to the average worker. I think the pendulum shifts because corporate leaders have brought to their attention the notion that they may have gone too far down the path of slash and burn cost-cutting by squeezing labor.

Nobody can breathe completely easily in this new job environment because job security is a thing of the past. This is a dynamic economy. Nobody can be absolutely sure that they will keep their jobs. But they can at least breathe easier if they have skills and continuously upgrade those skills so that they can get a new job if they lose this one. If they have pension portability and health care portability so that if they lose a job, they are not suddenly in trouble, and their family is not suddenly endangered. Again, education and training, health care and pension portability, and then at the bottom, a minimum wage and an earned income tax credit that at least guarantees you, if you fall off the cliff, you will not hit rock bottom.

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