Employment Opportunities

It seems to me….

We need to have a strong economy that can create employment opportunities and that can also produce the revenue that we need to defend our country at home and abroad.” ~ Bob Menendez[1].

Contrary to claims by some prominent politicians, while it is true that roughly 42 percent or about 93 million Americans do not have jobs, most of that population is made up of teenagers, retirees, or stay-at-home caregivers[2]. There is insufficient proof of high unemployed or even underemployed. A current unemployment rate of 3.9 percent[3] constitutes economic full-employment and possibly is lower than desirable.

Seventy-one percent of 16 and 17-year-olds, the Millennials born between about 1980 and 1995, do not have a job as they have yet to start working en masse. The majority are still in college or graduate school, taking care of young children, or otherwise not yet fully engaged in the labor force.

92 percent of people over 75-years old, the Baby Boomer generation – a massive portion of the U.S. labor force, currently are “unemployed”, evidence they are retiring. 20 percent of U.S. households are headed by retirees.

Unemployment for African-Americans 16 to 19 years old is close to 31.8 percent, extremely higher than desired but hardly pushing 60 percent as occasionally claimed.

Since manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 at nearly 20 million, some 8 million of jobs have been lost; initially to cheaper foreign labor markets but more recently to automation. Those losses accelerated after the 2001 recession, when competition from China surged and an estimated 2.0 million to 2.4 million jobs left for China between 1999 and 2011[4].

While manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined considerably over the past several decades, manufacturing output – the value of goods and products manufactured in the U.S. – has strongly expanded. While most Americans are aware of the decline in employment, relatively few are aware of the increase in output.

The very nature of work is changing at an unprecedented pace. Even professional services – legal, medical, investment… – no long seem safe from the rapid encroachment of increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI). The frightening rise of populism and election of Trump as U.S. President has aroused previously complacent white-collar workers to the plight of the large number of workers left behind by automation and other economic changes that have swept over our nation in the last several decades.

One reason Americans may be more familiar with the long-term decline in manufacturing employment than the increase in output is that the job losses have been highly visible, especially in traditionally manufacturing-intensive areas of the Midwest and South. After adjusting for inflation, manufacturing output in the first quarter of 2017 was more than 80 percent above its level 30 years ago according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The simultaneous increase in manufacturing output and decline in manufacturing jobs over the long term shows that U.S. manufacturers have become far more productive than they were three decades ago – that is, they can produce more goods, or higher-value goods, with less labor. This reflects several factors, among them businesses investing more in machinery and replacing old machines with more advanced ones; workers becoming more skilled and educated; and firms streamlining and improving their industrial processes.

Manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at 19.4 million and had fallen to 17.6 million by 1987 (BLS data). What had been a slow decline in employment accelerated after the turn of the century, especially during the 2009 recession. Manufacturing payrolls bottomed out at fewer than 11.5 million in early 2010 and even though more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since, overall employment in manufacturing is still at its lowest level since before the U.S. entered World War II.

While many of the jobs offshored to China and elsewhere have now returned to the U.S., they have substantially changed and fewer are available as manufacturing processes have become more productive. While the level of U.S. manufacturing employment has fallen by roughly a third, overall manufacturing output has doubled, thanks to a surge in productivity brought by increased automation, better supply chain management, and other efficiency improvements. Those upgrades aren’t going away. Manufacturers are now able to increase production with fewer workers.

The good news for job seekers is that numerous employment opportunities exist especially for those seeking employment in certain in-demand fields, such as healthcare and education, and while beneficial, not all require 4-year college degrees. Employers are especially eager to find candidates with experience and workplace skills according to ManpowerGroup’s 2015 Talent Shortage survey[5] which also found that 32 percent of American employers say they are having difficulty filling openings. Experience, realistic salary expectations, and a willingness to relocate were deemed very important.

One of the primary reason for job vacancies is the inability for employers to find people with job-ready skills. According to the Manufacturing Institute, 3.4 million manufacturing jobs are expected to become available over the next 10 years, yet 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled if the U.S. stays on its current course.

U.S. employers acknowledge that talent shortages have a medium to high impact on their business though few are putting talent strategies in place to address the problem. Skilled trades vacancies; such as chefs, butchers, bakers, mechanics, and electricians; have been the hardest positions to fill closely followed by openings for drivers, teachers, sales representatives, and a category that includes secretaries, PAs, receptionists, administrative assistants, and office-support staff.

There are very legitimate reasons that many people are legitimately frustrated with the current economy: the slow pace of wage improvement; service jobs are less lucrative than the union-backed factory and mining jobs of a generation ago; and health care, child care, and education are vastly more costly today as a percentage of income than they were three decades ago. Those are all issues of which many working-class Americans are very much aware.

Employment opportunities will rapidly transition in coming years due to technological advancement – computerization, automation, artificial intelligence…. With these changes will come new opportunities but many will require new skills, training, and education. Many threatened to be left behind by these advances will require access to retraining, transitional economic assistance, and improved public education. Failure to prepare for changes will very likely result in social unrest and possible conflict.

Youth must take responsibility for their own future. The frontier where in the past people without education or skills were able to relocate no longer is an option for those who do not complete their education. The young are entitled to educational or vocational training, medical care, and counseling but the rest is up to them. If they are unable to find employment, they should question what they must do to fit into society rather than blaming society. Life is not fair and some people must work harder than others, some schools always will be better than others, some environments more supporting…. The best advice for anyone feeling life is biased against them – get over it. Opportunities always are there for those that truly want them.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Robert Menendez is an American politician serving as the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey.

[2] Edwards, Haley Sweetland. What Donald Trump Got Wrong About Unemployment, Time, http://time.com/4443598/donald-trump-unemployment-statistics/?xid=newsletter-brief, 8 August 2016.

[3] The Employment Situation – April 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf, 4 May 2018.

[4] Acemoglu, Daron, David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, and Brendan Price. Import Competition and the Great US Employment Sag of the 2000s, Society of Labor Economists, The University of Chicago Press, http://www.ddorn.net/papers/AADHP-GreatSag.pdf, 2 January 2016.

[5] Prising, Jonas. 2015 Talent Shortage Survey, ManpowerGroup, https://manpower.ca/wps/wcm/connect/manpowergroup/home/talent-shortage-2015.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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