Then there’s the middle class. The emergence of a service economy created a large population of junior and midlevel office workers. These white-collar workers absorbed their lifestyle standards from the Huxtable family of “The Cosby Show,” not the Kramden family of “The Honeymooners.” As these information workers tried to build lifestyles that fit their station, consumption and debt levels soared. The trade deficit exploded. The economy adjusted to meet their demand — underinvesting in manufacturing and tradable goods and overinvesting in retail and housing. These office workers did not want their children regressing back to the working class, so you saw an explosion of communications majors and a shortage of high-skill technical workers.The supposed prestige of the "white collar" has been with us since the Industrial Revolution.
But there is also an economic motive here. Manufacturing is not exactly the most stable job field right now, with factories closing down left and right and laying off workers. It's ironic that Brooks should write this column in the same week as the publicizing of the closing of the last major incandescent light bulb plant in the US. And the salaries of many "high-skill technical workers" are often at the risk of being undercut by foreign workers through mechanisms such as H-1B visas and outsourcing.
The middle class have sent their children into fields like real estate and finance in part because that's where the jobs are. That might be a good thing or a bad thing (the economic period of 2001-2008 leaned very heavily upon those sectors for growth), but that's how it is. There is an economic motive for some of these social changes.