What are people going to do for a living?

Working

When my mother started working for an insurance company over 50 years ago, they had typing rooms. These were separate from the other offices because of the noise. Any memo, form, contract, or other document needed to be typed out manually. If 100 copies were needed, the document had to be typed individually 100 times. If a mistake was made, the document had to be re-typed. Each document had to be sorted and hand delivered to whoever it was going to in the building.

With technology those jobs are gone, and this is just one example. There used to be a time when crop fields were not plowed, planted and harvested by machines. Factory farms didn’t exist. Gas stations were full service, not self-service. Heating homes meant keeping a fire going 24/7. Actual people answered the phone for customer inquiries. Far more manual effort was required for the basic necessities of food and clothing.

After World War II, U.S. factories ran strong as so many manufacturing facilities overseas were destroyed in warfare. The U.S. under President Truman provide food and aid to countless people overseas who were starving and vulnerable to the approaching winter due to the devastation of war. These were the glory days of the United States when patriotism and opportunity thrived.

What happened to the opportunity this country once had? Why are there so many young adults today who worked hard in college, received good grades with honors, but they can’t find work? Why are there so many working today that receive government handouts because their wages aren’t enough for decent food and shelter? Why are there lazy and incompetent business people today who ran companies into the ground and yet are sitting pretty with billions in the bank? What happened to America?

Work hard and you will be successful. This is the idea of capitalism. Competition will bring out the best in people. But the key ingredient in capitalism is opportunity. Without opportunity capitalism fails. And a culture of greed, corruption and elitism is absolutely devastating to capitalism. With the new world, there has been new opportunities. There have been new careers that opened up such as information technology. But it’s a numbers game. Do the new careers employ the same number of people as the old careers that have been lost? The answer is no.

If a factory brings in equipment that replaces ten workers, there will be a necessity for a high skilled individual to occasionally repair and calibrate that machine. But it’s likely going to be a part time requirement. A new PT opportunity for a high skilled worker doesn’t compensate for ten lost jobs.

And technology doesn’t always lead to the necessity of high skilled workers. Disposable electronics has replaced the need of an electronics technician to repair devices. It only requires the skills to pack and ship. And even packing and shipping jobs are in danger of being automated. Amazon recently estimated that 85% of its packages may be shipped by drones in the future.

Many older conservatives today still keep preaching the work hard and be successful mantra. They look down upon the unemployed and so called low skill workers. They don’t seem to notice that the world has changed. The quantity of opportunities they had long ago doesn’t exist now. Automation and outsourcing have taken a chunk out of the job market and will likely continue to do so. How do we deal with that?

This is a question for all nations. What does the future job market and working week look like? How many people will realistically be employed? Will the typical wage be enough to cover basic living expenses? What can be done to proactively deal with the challenge?

-James Kirk Wall

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