5/21/2014

Texas Needs You More Than You Need It

Back in the early 1970’s, I was conned into taking a job in west Texas. I was right out of tech school, had a kid on the way, and had the usual lousy information that the “Greatest Generation” was famous for imparting to its children. When I interviewed for the job, I imagined the nation was in such a nasty recession that my first job offer might be the only one I’d get. We were in a recession, but we’d be in worse shape several times over the next forty years and I rarely had difficulty finding work. I imagined that the tiny niche where I’d made my living while going to school was the only place I might be employable after my marginal Dodge City Kansas Tech School education dumped me into the river of the semiconductor revolution after 14 weeks of tube technology training. As I often am, I was wrong.

The job was miserable, mostly because I allowed my manager to pretend that I was replaceable. He had a habit of “scheduling” me to be in two places or more at once. I was always “late” to every appointment because it would have been impossible for me to be on time. Every customer was pissed at me before I arrived and he managed to keep a straight face as he pretended to be equally upset with my sole existence. Although, if there had been two of me he’d have just doubled the workload to keep both of us off-balance. Eventually, I stopped caring about my “poor performance” and started working harder at my second job than my day job, because it paid dramatically better wages for fewer hours. He hadn’t left himself any headroom to be pissed at me, so I might as well be in for a pound if I was going to be in for a penny (The story of my life.). It took me about a year to put away enough money to escape that job and Texas. Ten years later, I passed through that town on my way to California and the kid I’d “trained” to take my place (No such training occurred because our boss booked me in the field for every second of my time until the day I quit.) showed me around the shop that evening. The only thing that had changed was everything was older, more worn out, and a lot less profitable. The “kid” was now in his late thirties and making about twice my old hourly rate, which was barely minimum wage, and working a 30 hour week. A year later, that business and the parent company were absorbed by a smaller company (the one I’d originally worked for in Dodge City) and the whole industry shriveled along with most of agriculture during the Reagan years recession.

My youngest daughter moved to Dallas, Texas just before the 2007 depression began, going to work for the Dallas branch of Bank of America in a transfer from Los Vegas. BofA was particularly brain-dead and made a batch of stupid moves, many of which were well chronicled in All the Devils Are Here. The Texas bunch were dumber than most. In a fit of disorder, she was laid off, rehired, laid off, and transferred from one dysfunctional area of that disorganization to another until she left the banking and investment business altogether.

Her career in Texas has been a high level version of my own. Texas businesses are astoundingly poorly managed and the only thing that appears to keep the business balls in the air is the extraordinary amount of federal corporate welfare that pours into the state, non-existent corporate taxes, even less state and federal regulation, and the “opportunity” illusion Texas manages to maintain. Inexplicably, talented people from all over the country (mostly the north and northwest) are drawn to Texas to prop up what would otherwise be a lazy, incompetent, uneducated “local workforce” that couldn’t build an acceptable cardboard box with less than a 50% reject rate.

The thing to take away from all of this history is that Texas desperately needs outside talent. The state’s education system is notorious for its religion-over-science stance, polluting the K-12 textbooks across the nation because of Texas’ huge buying power influence on textbook publishers. The state’s graduation rate is near the dismal national average. Technically, Texas public education isn’t all that awful (on a scale of general awfulness across the nation). However, 1 in 6 Texans are “foreign born” and the state has a terrible reputation for ESL education and student retention. Couple that with the fact that the state loses a lot of engineering students due to its mediocre higher education system and many of the students who do graduate from Texas universities find work elsewhere. Not only is it true that the state has a lowered need and expectation for engineers than do the “tech states,” but the state isn’t particularly good at educating them.

What this means to people considering immigrating to Texas is that employment in that state is a seller’s market. Texas needs your talent, ambition, work ethic, and skills a lot more than you need Texas. You can find a better place to live, a more demanding and stimulating work environment, a more inclusive social structure, and less bullshit in any number of states outside of Texas and the “New South.” The only reason you should be considering Texas for anything is because it pays exponentially more than you’ll earn in a civilized location. Consider Texas to be the Saudi Arabia of the United States (likewise, Georgia, Florida, and the rest of the south). The place has old money that wants to become new money and oil still fuels a false extractive economy as long as the illusion of wealth and opportunity can be maintained. Go into that interview armed with the knowledge that you’re in the driver’s seat and take advantage of that one positive because once you’re living in Texas you’re going to need all of the cash you can stash to get the hell out of that god-awful place.

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