Another Look At The Future Of Work

I recently watched a video made by a young black man that was a message aimed at the black community and by extension at the other communities in this country.  One of the themes is the need for young blacks, both male and female, to get jobs, become employed.  Yes, this is good advice but it leaves unanswered of where one obtain a job and what skills, if any, are needed.  If one is young and had attended public school the likelihood that one has much in the way of saleable skills is a bit thin.  Those who graduate from high school, on average tend to need remedial classes in English language skills, writing and communications skills, math skills, and science skills.  Few teens who apply and are accepted to the university or college level of education can compete at that academic entry level without remedial preparation.

But there are other skills that come into play.  One may not think it a skill, but arriving to the job on time ready to work is a skill.  We might ask why but the reason is deceptively simply, it takes practice.  And the skill of actually working the number of hours one is paid is another skill.  If one is stocking shelves with product then one is expected to spend those hours with the exception of the paid break, to stock those shelves during the time allotted for work.  Having a good attitude towards one’s peers and one’s managers is another skill.  It is a social skill that we acquire as we grow from child to adult and beyond.  Without these three simply skills, one simply does not qualify for even the most unskilled of jobs.  But assuming that one has at least these three skills and the average skill in English, writing, and math, where does one obtain a job?  Well, for those in the inner city, the outlying poor slums, and other somewhat undesirable areas for living, what jobs there are are few and far inbetween.  Most small, medium, and large size factories have closed, the work being done by labor in foreign lands.

There are other problems.  If we wanted to give those young people work requiring minimum skill such as pick and shovel labor we have the problem of unions who wish to control the work productivity and the wage rates.  A general laborer is often paid, if under union contract, about $23 to $24 an hour plus another $10 or so in benefits.  At $35 an hour total compensation, why is a common laborer worth so much for so little skill?  The unions in their past history have been very racist in their membership policies and only since 1980 have we seen any real effort to recruit black and hispanic workers into its membership.  The first barrier was obtaining entrance into apprentice positions, for without that step one could not become a journeyman in any craft.  But the other problem of the union’s making is that push in wage levels that reduce the number of members able to obtain positions.  The construction unions must rely on public works to keep much of their members employed.  Even corporate projects have seen their cost escalate beyond reason when dealing with union contracts.  A corporation that needs to build factory and office may resort to moving to those states that have right to work laws simply to keep such projects cost effective.  So even if the city or county has projects that require common laborer type of skills, meaning almost none, it faces the union presence if blocking such work from those who need a minimum income.  Where we might employ young black men at $12 an hour and thus give them work experience and an income while providing services the city or county or even state needs done, the unions will see to it that those young men will remain unemployed.  What is really a matter of economics has now become a problem of exercising political power.

One of the other problems with job creation is that technology has destroyed so many jobs.  I use the word destroy because that is literally what has happened.  Where factories may once have employed machinists of various stripe from those who operated drill presses to lathe operators to heavy stamping presses, automation has eliminated much of that work through automation and robotic machines able to learn various processes.  Of course that was only made possible through successive strikes by union workers for ever increasing wages.  The ugly truth of union membership is that one strikes oneself out of a job over time.  And the lower the skill content of the position the quicker the automation comes.  And since Public Service Unions have taken over much of the public service employees, that means that government cannot expand at will.  Additional positions are constrained by department budgets which are constrained by both tax revenue and bond issuance.  If the taxpayers refuse to approve the issuance of more bonds and resist tax increases upon heir property and wages, then the number of union employees in public service will remain static or even decline.  The results become the bankrupting of the city, the county, and even the state as wage increases become untenable and retirement and benefits become impossible debts on future revenues.  In the end, the public service unions must be broken for they are, in reality, conflicts of interest to the good of the general public.

While those who seek some form of higher education that provide salebe skills for future employment, most of our youth will be seeking positions of limited skill set needs because their skill sets are limited.  It is not factory jobs that will give both black and white unskilled youth jobs in the future, but those types of jobs that are unusual and not subject to automation or robotic application.  What must be done is to undo the stranglehold of unions.  That stranglehold benefits only a few at the expense of the many.  The inner city and outlying neighborhoods need young people to do the clean up work.  Vacant lots need to be cleaned, basic structural to housing need to be done.  This is not make work projects.  This work must be done and will be done in one manner or another.  If left long enough, then mass demolition using high powered machine and only a few workers will accomplish that mission.  And the populace will be pushed into other areas while remaining is the same or worse condition.  But rehabilitation of older neighborhoods using more human labor without union interference will help poor communities and its younger members.  This is not a zero sum game for the public will need to pay for a part of it.  But considering the cost of extra policing when revolts come to the neighborhood, such a price is considerably less.  And it gives a platform for those young people to stand upon and attempt to become better education and employed.  It gives hope.

The fact is, job creation in the future for the average and below average individual depends on the creation of need to unskilled and semiskilled position.  Do not believe the hype that the internet will provide hundreds of millions of good paying jobs.  It will never happen in your lifetime or that of your children.  Technology destroys jobs for the many while creating only jobs for the few.  Either we need a succession of wars to kill off a few billion people in this world or we need to give more serious thought to how we live on this planet.  Either way, there is no free lunch, technology or not.

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