The Changing Nature of Work in the US – Death of the Blue Model

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2012 | No Comments

I mentioned the blue model in one of my previous posts, and how we should all be trying to steer clear from these types of jobs because the nature of work is changing. But, I didn’t explain what the blue model is and why I believe we’re not just in a recession – we’re witnessing massive changes to the American (and global) workforce – the type of upheaval that only our grandparents and great-grandparents witnessed.

First, I want to explain what the blue model is and second, I hope to demonstrate why I believe art therapy is caught within its framework. To be clear, I’m not saying that art therapy is a dead-end career that won’t be supported in a post-blue model economy. Rather, I believe art therapy could be a viable career option in 10 or 20 years from now if we recognize the changes in our economy now and if we analyze how the current model of licensing, civil service and academia is changing. Just as no one could have predicted the internet at the beginning of the industrial revolution, I believe we cannot predict exactly how we’ll come out the other side. But, burying our heads in the sand will cause more disruption and hardship on art therapists and aspiring art therapists than opening our eyes to the reality of what’s happening.

And, I’m not claiming to be an economist or a historian as I write about this issue. I’m merely a person in her early 30s who is reflecting on her current career situation and why the promises fed to her all her life (work hard, get educated and you’ll do fine) are just not panning out…at least not in the way that my family, teachers and mentors always described.

What is the blue model?
The blue model is the post-great depression work structure in the US that most North Americans picture in our minds eye when we conjure up what a stable economy consists of.

My main go-to post-blue model thinker, Walter Russell Mead, explains:

…most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable, lifetime jobs with defined benefit pensions, and a career civil service administered a growing state as living standards for all social classes steadily rose. Gaps between the classes remained fairly consistent in an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable, [and] government-brokered arrangements with large corporations…High school graduates were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that provided a comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle; college graduates could expect a better paid and equally secure future. An increasing “social dividend”, meanwhile, accrued in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks, more social and literal mobility, and more diverse forms of affordable entertainment. Call all this, taken together, the blue model.

Is the Blue Model really crumbling?

Many people, much smarter than me, say so. But judge for yourself – is it a guarantee that young people will achieve more financial stability than their parents? No. Not at all! Blue collar and government jobs just aren’t around like they used to be. Even if you snag one, many don’t have job security. And if you do because you’re unionized, that won’t be lasting for very much longer. The cost of paying the benefits of unionized workers is getting so burdensome that pretty much no matter where you live in the US, you’ve heard about layoffs and pension cut backs to these types of workers.

But, what if you’re educated? Then you’ll do better than your parents, right? Not necessarily. It depends on the sector you work in and what you’re educated in. Not surprisingly, according to this study of median incomes posted by the Chronicle (hat tip), science and technology related jobs fare the best, while psychology and education jobs fare the worst.

So, are you telling me that I could be paying 40-80K for a BA and then another 40-80K for an MA, only to discover that I could be earning as little as $29K-$55K a year? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. In many areas of the country that’s barely enough to rent an apartment and have a car, never mind affording to buy a home. Is that doing better than your parents? In most cases, no.

Now, let’s talk a little more about job security. Do you know anyone under the age of 50 who’s only held one job their whole lives? How about someone who’s been at the same company for over 10 years? I know I don’t. In fact, in many areas it’s looked down upon to stay with the same company for too long. It means you’re not growing and risk being “typecast” in your career.

Don’t even get me started on the cost of education, early retirement and other promises of the Blue Model.

But as Walter Russel Mead points out, we’re actually past the collapse of blue industry, as evidenced by the changes that have already taken place and described above. It’s the government (and quasi-government) jobs that are currently being shaken up. At this point, I believe art therapy is a quasi-government job that is at 5-alarm risk of going down with the ship.

Why do I consider art therapy at risk?

  • Many art therapy jobs rely on government funding. If government jobs are going down, so are the jobs that rely on government money.
  • Art therapy usually adjunct. If government funding is drastically reduced, anything seen as non-essential will be removed from the services offered by (mental health) institutions.
  • Art therapists are resistant to integrating new technology into their practice.
  • Art therapy schools are not listening to students or clients to define their curriculum. For example, students are not taught how to integrate digital art making into their practices or how to ethically navigate online therapy and social media as therapists. We all know that public school education for our kids is inefficient and has difficulty keeping up with the times. But, there is no excuse for programs that charge upward of 60K to learn what I consider the old way of practicing art therapy. To stay modern, art therapists must know how to meet their clients where they’re at – meaning that if clients are better able to connect and reach their therapeutic goals while using a tablet or a computer, then art therapists should feel comfortable in that space. Just as they should feel comfortable introducing clay into a session when it’s warranted, even if the art therapist isn’t an expert on sculpture making.
  • Tuition to become an art therapist is outrageous in comparison to median earning potential. We will lose great minds and talent in the field simply due to this fact.
  • Licensing is complicated and oftentimes does not serve the purpose of protecting the client. Instead, it’s used to shut out otherwise qualified professionals and prevent (art) therapists from being mobile. I believe this has a lot to do with the crumbling blue model system – people are trying to stake claim to space on board the Titanic. Again, frustration with these issues will cause people to switch careers to professions that care if you’re competent and qualified, not whether or not you can jump through hoops.

Is there reason to be hopeful?

I believe there are many reasons to be hopeful, and I plan to outline them in my next post. But, allow me to leave you with this inspiring video – there is much to look forward to!

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