For almost two centuries Americans have wondered how their children will find jobs. First, agricultural jobs disappeared. Then manufacturing jobs disappeared. Now many skilled technical jobs disappear, moving to nations with lower wages but good educational systems. Here’s an optimistic look at the situation: “Our White Collar Nation“, Marc Cenedella, posted at Stone, 5 January 2010. Professional and technical jobs are our future!
The reality is less pleasant. Two of the economy’s “overhead” sectors have provided much of the job growth in recent decades (there’s been no job growth in the past decade): health care and government. As described here: “How The Government Payroll Replaced Goods-Producing Jobs“, Chart of the Day by the Business Insider, 5 January 2010. One graph tells the story (part of it):
This includes almost 3 million Federal workers (but not the temps and contractors) and aprox 20 million State and local employees (aprox half are teachers). This graph has been shown in various forms by many people since these lines crossed in 2007, and was discussed on this site in America passes a milestone! (20 January 2009).
The two key factors
Job creation depends on many factors, but two may prove decisive for the next few generations of Americans, a discontinuity with the happy news of the past 2 centuries.
The large populations of Asia have joined the modern world. Educated and industrious, with far lower standards of living. Competing with them will prove a challenge. Even keeping our existing jobs might prove difficult, as it has during the past decade (with no net job creation). Generating new jobs for our growing population might be our greatest task.
But a far more formidable competitor has appeared: semi-intelligent machines, the next wave of mechanization. The first proved a boon in almost every way. The second wave might destroy so many jobs that it destabilizes our society.
Neither of these means certain doom. Both require thought, planning, and coordinated action. I have faith in our ability to handle these changes, as we have successfully done in the past.
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