Saturday, November 15, 2014

Population growth and assimilation

Tyler Cowen had a piece in last week's NYTimes about how important a driver of economic growth population will be in decades to come, and how societies that can assimilate newcomers will have a competitive advantage over ones that can't.  So, the USA and the UK, for example, will have advantages over Japan, China, and Italy.

That took me back to a couple of moments over the last few weeks of ranging across the Triangle. One of my regular readers has made the point that, however liberal Chapel Hill may think it is, nice restaurants do not hire lower-income people, and particularly people of color, to serve as wait staff.

Recently the labor market seems to be changing that. At Bull City Burgers and Brewery in Durham, for example, an African-American woman who clearly wasn't brought up middle class was working the front of the house.  At the University Club the other night, an hispanic guy was serving deserts and an hispanic woman was busing and serving coffee, etc. There was something else but Mary just distracted me.

Oh yeah, on a tour of the homeless shelter at Urban Ministries of Durham, I saw help wanted ads for Hardee's and Bojangles.

All this says to me that labor market pressures are making it harder and harder to fill roles, which are opportunities for assimilation and growth.

I know you're thinking, big fucking deal, people of color getting shitty service sector jobs that don't pay well.  The point is that they are turning up in higher-touch, client-facing roles in more expensive types of food service establishments, the kinds of places that have historically preferred to hire younger, somewhat career-confused middle-class white kids. And that is where one learns how to deal with demanding customers, more complicated service needs, and more fluid processes, which are themselves more susceptible to improvisation and improvement.

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