An "I can't afford to be internationally aware" Diatribe

I’ve been mostly and accidentally working in and around IT since the late 1987. I majored in Journalism in college, and Information Technology (IT) was never a thought. Besides, when I started college in 1981, COBOL programming was the extent of IT.

However, I learned quickly in the '80s that IT jobs paid more, so I leaned as far as I could in that direction. They also didn’t typically require a college degree (I didn’t graduate the first time around).

And I got lucky/was blessed. I started out doing software training for corporations in Atlanta, steadily built up to a development position (at which I thought I failed miserably, but had a ball), earned a CIS bachelor’s degree, and have ended up doing contract and freelance technical writing for a variety of large and small businesses and non-profit organizations.

The development position was my first exposure to working with IT folks from India. I didn’t especially like it then, and I really, really don’t like it now, almost ten years later. It has gone from a mere adjustment to a more diverse college-educated candidate pool to a moral issue for me.

It’s different now. It’s unequivocal and unabashed greed now. And it is affecting everyone. The middle class, who depend on corporations for financial survival and who provide the working poor and poor with most of their financial assistance, are finding it more difficult with each passing year to get jobs, much less minimal cost-of-living raises. Being one small step above office supplies, IT contractors simply can’t compete with whoever offers the cheapest rates, when rate is often, the only consideration.

I’m not in IT development roles anymore, but my rates are directly affected. It can be hard to justify paying me, as the Technical Writer on a project, more than the Indian developer. What company wouldn’t wonder what lowest rate they could propose?

The Software Configuration Management (SCM) managers at my current client recently refused to hire a well-qualified, stable, local candidate for a position they desperately needed to fill, because his salary requirement was $90,000 (average for this position). Instead, the company hired two Indians who are still being trained by this client and one of whom still struggles with English.

IT organizations intently hiring and marketing to Indians because of their cheaper rates is comparable to my shopping at Wal-Mart (which I don’t do anymore, except for an occasional ermergency trip for Newman’s Own Mango Salsa). The only people who benefit from Wal-Mart are the small percentage of customer service employees and distributors, when the people who could be employed making products at plants in this country would be thousand-fold. I’d bet a year’s salary that if you asked any shopper if he would rather have a bag o’ cereal for a dollar less or a full-time-with-decent-pay-and-benefits job making the cereal, the answer would be the job every time. But, since the job option doesn’t exist, his need for the cheaper cereal is understandable.

I recently met with an online education company with great vision and a hopeful cause. They develop online training classes for manufacturing employees – those who want promotions or just a foot in the plant door. What an admirable goal to help to the working people in this country trying to earn more for their families! Problem is: plants close every day, and manufacturing employees are being laid off every day - and by the thousands.

Where are we middle-class Americans to go? Should we start training and specializing in new fields? Great, how do we pay $50,000 for college for an entry-level job probably paying less?

And what are we supposed to say? We’re not supposed to be maddened by this. We’re supposed to be politically correct – the last term I heard for this was “internationally aware”. The media make us feel guilty for thinking negatively about immigration and NAFTA and the temporary Visa/guest worker program.

I love being exposed to and learning about other cultures, and I’d love to work with people from all over the world, but I just can’t play on the same financial field with the people here from developing countries. If that makes me politically incorrect or internationally unaware, give me the badge, because I’ll wear it proudly.

I wish I were smart enough to recognize a good solution to this problem before my son has to face the workforce. I don’t think a repeal of Clinton’s NAFTA will do it. I don’t think new immigration laws alone will do it. I think there has to be some sort of government-imposed returned incentive for (or penalties upon) companies to hire here and make things here. I think.

It’s beyond political; it’s really just the right thing to do for a class of people who contribute the most to this country. But who do we trust with “right things to do”?

Whatever presidential candidate addresses this with a non-partisan and non-political solution is the one for me, and I haven’t quite found him yet.

Mike Huckabee (who has a history of taxation) has a Fair Tax Plan on his website stating that American companies would be far less likely to move overseas and foreign companies far more likely to come here if a fair tax was implemented.

According to the explanation on his website: “A recent study by MIT found that our tax system deprives us of about $1 billion in exports annually. When you export over-priced goods as we have, you inevitably end up exporting jobs and industries as we now are. We are the square peg trying to fit into the round hole of international trade. The rest of the world isn't going to change, it's time that we do.” And according to Wiki: “Because the U.S. tax system has a hidden effect on prices, moving to the FairTax would decrease production costs due to the removal of business taxes and compliance costs.”

So, are taxes the key to repairing NAFTA and immigration and the Visa program? Does that mean that the greed is shared by both corporations and our government?

I’m officially a student. I’ll study and try to remember the bigger, critical picture, while I temporarily work in an office heated to 90 degrees (because, come to find out, Indians are “allergic to the cold”), listen to Hindi all day long (which I now hear in my sleep), and polish my incorrect and unaware badge.