The Future of Work – IV Slow and Fast

As the United States lives day-to-day, transition to a new world of work will be virtually unnoticed. Evidence will lie in statistics and deep economical analysis. However, in terms of careers and financial security across a lifetime, the financial underpinnings of work will seem to erode quickly; the ability to feel comfort through stable income, savings and retirement will become less secure. The millennial generation already knows that thirty-year jobs have all but disappeared. The millennial attitude is that they are on their own.

The attitude of the millennial generation represents a significant shift in the culture of work. Barely noticeable is a different behavior about job security, accepting short term employment much more casually than their grandfathers who worked in one factory for thirty-five years. Grandfather lived during the period before computers began to have an effect on factory employment and tenure. Those of us twice the age of a millennial watch them with a degree of anxiety; they are living without a net of financial security under them that their elders took for granted.

Today, large corporations like AT&T and General Electric have cut payroll by sixty percent. Google, a world-wide conglomerate, only has 55,000 employees. Google is about to roll out a driverless automobile. Transportation is the largest sector for male jobs in the US. The Swiss start postal service this very day with drones. Further, global corporations have mastered the ability to move to the least expensive labor force without much difficulty – thanks to the power of the Internet and cloud storage. The current labor disruption around the world is international trade agreements which aren’t trade agreements between nations; they are trade agreements between corporate consortiums that erode government authority, human rights and the power of the citizen to vote his or her future.

Slowly, the raggedness of the work culture will increase to a point that having any job may be a whistle in the dark for tens of millions of workers. The alternative is “self employment.” A good example is AirB&B. People list their living room sofa for one night stays; real estate agents have begun to buy houses and keep them for AirB&B income; everyone with a spare room can become a motel; everyone with a car can become a taxicab; dialup services like Angie’s List and Home Advisor have begun to include individuals who can fix a receptacle or weld a broken iron railing; at high profile destinations, AirB&B opportunities are undercutting amortized prices for corporate solutions like timeshares and bundled travel packages.

Two phenomena occur in this self employed market: The income is significantly lower than the income when they had a “job;” the second is that self employed people are happier. It is an irony that most people who have jobs are dissatisfied with them, are not happy with the work environment and find the work boring. On the other hand, these same people are unhappy if they do not have a job – unhappiness related to their inability to contribute to the greater value of society and the wellbeing of their families.

As this jobless society expands, many, if not most, will not have steady income; many will not earn enough to live even a meager lifestyle. Lack of income will come fast upon individuals who lose their regular jobs. The slow part is the transition of public and private institutions to a point where every citizen is available for what today is called a dole. The government must expand ideas similar to Social Security, welfare, paid services like health, and the existence of price controls on most services and purchases. This challenge is a difficult one for a capitalistic society. Change will come slowly.

Institutions already are making adjustments to the new labor market. Government, colleges, and private sector training are growing steadily. Unemployment benefits frequently are extended to eighteen months or more. A few corporations make room for subsidized small businesses that contribute to the corporate productivity. The American automobile industry has used this model for most of its existence.

Normal to the history of change in society, it is the proletariat that will bear the cost of change. We can hope that the change to a jobless society will not last too long. What can we do to ease transition?

Ancient Mariner


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