Coffee Hour with Amy Glasmeier: How Recessions, Job Loss, Permanent Unemployment and Social Stigma Brought Us Contemporary Populism

Friday, October 6, 2017 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m

About the talk

The sociologists have it right. The average American, lacking access to the American Dream is tired of sharing the fragile benefits of a weakened economy. From the 1970s onward, American manufacturing jobs experienced a steady decline in numbers being replaced by ever cheaper imports. New jobs called for different skills and too often no skill. Shunted aside, American workers faced few opportunities to regain employment in jobs paying a living wage. Changes in public policy— taxation, trade, and labor market regulation— further contributed to economic insecurity. In the USA, progressive policies hard won during past eras of political liberalism were susceptible to interest- group influence that shaped and reshaped the direction of government practices. The 1970s were an economic watershed. The combined forces of globalization and the consequences of technological change transformed the economies of countries around the world and the local communities within them. The 1970s saw the rollback of federal policies, including reduced tax rates on investment income privileging capital gains over earned income. The failure of the executive branch to raise the minimum wage to keep pace with the rising cost of living compounded the effect of stagnant wage rates. Labor market regulations guaranteeing the rights of workers to organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions faced persistent challenges. Starting in the early 1990s, trade policies designed to rein in non-tariff- based forms of protectionism succeeded in establishing new rules governing market access. However, these so-called ‘reforms’ failed to deliver the required designs for and sufficient funding of compensatory mechanisms able to support the scale of transition assistance required to retraining, relocate, and retire affected workers. The lack of a policy framework capable of addressing the twin effects of increasing trade liberalization and skilled-biased technological change got lost in a divided government. The scale of labor market adjustment required in the face of such convergence failed to materialize. Workers lacking little more than a high- school diploma had little to fall back on in the face of an increasingly globalized economic landscape. The lack of necessary government investments to offset the inevitable effects of dislocation resulting from skill-biased technological change (SBTC) and job relocation contributed to rising income inequality in the USA. As the effects of economic displacement mounted, the geographical mobility of capital played one community off against another. Billions of dollars of subsidies changed hands in offensive and defensive bidding wars between states. On the one hand, states aggressively pursued foreign direct investment emanating from international companies seeking access to the US market. Taking up residence simultaneously protected against unforeseen trade policy actions, while ensuring access to the USA’s rich pool of human capital and technology. While the intensity of these policy influences is subject to debate, few would argue that the last thirty years have seen an erosion of the Depression-era inspired social safety net conceived in the 1930s. In the current context, the well-documented influences of these events warrant the selection of the USA as a case study of disparity formation. Tracing geographers’ role in identifying antecedents of the ‘great divergence’ remains a vital element in understanding the causes and the consequences of rising inequality and growing disparity formation.

About the speaker

Amy GlasmeierAmy Glasmeier is a professor of economic geography and regional planning at MIT, and former head and first woman leader of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She has spent her career tracking and evaluating how regions build economic capacity through innovative industry development.

Glasmeier is an expert in technology-led industry development based on tracking how companies use national, state and local programs to support industrial innovation and economic growth. She is an expert in the regional development consequences of the U.S, Russian and Chinese energy systems.

Glasmeier is the author of an Atlas on Poverty in America: One Nation Pulling Apart, the 60 year history of the nation’s efforts to eradicate poverty, and of four books on technology led economic development including the definitive text on the World Watch Industry 1750-2003. She is co-author of the recent NRC report on Transformative Research in the Geographical Sciences (Goodchild, Glasmeier and McDonald, 2017) in which she traced the consequences of changes in national demographics, federal R&D investment flows, and state higher education limitations set against the increasingly globally competitive higher education systems and targeted national policies supporting R&D investment in countries of Asia.

Glasmeier is a two-time Appointee as the Federal John Whisman Appalachian Scholar, advising the states and federal offices regarding efforts to transition the regional economy from resource dependence to new economy employment opportunities. In that capacity, she assisted the Commission in formulating the region’s first ever energy policy.

Glasmeier is also well known as the creator of the Living Wage Calculator, used by corporations like the 155,000-employee privately-held Ikea, the 110,000 employee publicly held Trinity Health Care, and the 12,000 employee city government of Dallas Texas to set wages rates for their entry level employees. The tool is also being used by thousands of Americans to work toward jobs that pay a living wage.

Glasmeier served as director of the Policy Studies Center on Energy, Environment and Community Well-Being, Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment and the Social Science Research Institute, 2007–09.  Also while at Penn State, she received the Rosemary Schraer Mentoring Award from the Penn State Commission for Women.

Contact us

Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Angela Rogers in advance of your participation or visit.

Angela Rogers  office: 814-865-2493 email: