So the new employment numbers for June just came out and we've lost, they say, another 62,000 jobs in the U.S. alone. Estimates are approaching half a million jobs lost in the past six months. This is, admittedly, far from universal. Canada, right next door, is doing just fine, thank you very much. But I'm interested here in discussing a more long-term view.
I'm going to rush through things here with very little detail but, as usual, this is to keep the piece from exceeding readable limits and, as usual, I would be delighted to go back over any part of this in detail in the comments. (Or, for that matter, have somebody with better data or a better understanding prove me wrong.)
Ignoring "peak oil" and global warming-related drops in per-capita consumption, we'll see the consumption levels of about another billion people reach the current levels of the 700 million or so person developed world within twenty years. So I'm guessing that almost a third of India and China will be roughly "middle class" by then as well as increasing chunks of Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, etc. Since I'm also assuming the destruction of much of the world's coastal regions, most notably Bangladesh, from rising oceans and permanent drought, I'm keeping my net numbers low.
So, assuming a constant population, that means a 140% increase in "goods" consumed. Total of 240% of current consumption.
Add in activity in the rest of the world and we see about another 50%.
So roughly 300% current consumption.
Let's put back sustainability-related and cost-derived changes and consumption should drop by about 40%. Remember that all of this is in twenty years. 300% x 60% = 180%.
In the short term we'll actually get a huge breather as society adapts to new conditions by building more mass transit, rebuilding homes, and other shifts to more sustainable lifestyles while simultaneously building all of the apurtinances of "middle class" life, much of it twice or three times as the shoddy first gen goods fall apart. But since I'm trying to show an even more long-term trend, I'm going to leave that out. It will buy us time. It will not help once those transitions are finished.
This takes us to an 80% total gain in "goods" being consumed. With two billion more people in a position to do the jobs that create those goods. Far fewer isolated subsistence farmers. (The U.S. went from about 80% farmers to about 5% farmers while increasing per capita output as it industrialized.)
So productive capacity rises to 180% of current numbers. Population trying for the jobs to make those goods increases by over two billion, an increase of about 300%.
Assuming no gains in productivity, that puts 1.3 BILLION out of work. I think that it's more accurate to say that an increasing cost of energy and some resources will considerably decrease productivity while improved processes and practices will make up for it but since the result is the same, I'm treating productivity as a wash.
Add robots decreasing jobs by another 40% (conservatively) and another 600 million are jobless. This, by the way, includes the use of computers to replace many service sector jobs. For now call centers are doing very well indeed but voice recognition is getting much better and I'm pretty sure that if it's based on profit numbers, almost all of those jobs will go away within ten years. We're also now starting to see robots and handheld devices in retail that can answer questions, show you where to find a particular item, and generally do most of the work, including stocking shelves, that has kept millions employed in recent years at places like Walmart. Add the trend towards self-checkout and even more jobs go away.
Add women in the workforce in greater percentages and we're up to, at best, about 2.1 billion people with no jobs. Assuming current U.S. middle class consumption patterns for half the world's population.
So, you tell me, if the same level of consumption requires less than a third as many people working, how many job training programs does it take to fix things?
Having done the broad overview, let's go sector by sector. Using the U.S. government's numbers for the U.S. economy. (which, at the least, leaves out the considerable number making their living as criminals but whatever.) It'll be very rough, but it's a start. Why the U.S. economy? Because I have found that many people are assuming that the goal of the people in all of these developing countries is to "become America". I think that this is, at best, an oversimplification but since the breakdown below is mostly just a means to break the jobs down by category and the numbers employer per sector are bound to change anyway, U.S. data is as good a starting point as any.
emp: 6,003,930; wage: $96,150
Okay, management has already been flattened in the U.S. But as we shift to a more kleptocratic society, one more like Argentina, as folks like to say, I'm guessing that we'll see an increase here, if only from that classic phenomenon of management jobs created as ways to park useless relatives and other artifacts of corruption. On the other hand, as one can see in "traditional" jobs like that, such as the no-show jobs in the 1970's NY dockworker's union, many of these jobs actually don't pay all that well. Will this result in a net increase or decrease? I'm reluctant to even guess.
Business and Financial Operations:
emp: 6,015,500; wage: $62,410
Hmm. Real operational jobs. Which we're already seeing decrease. On the other hand, we're still seeing an increase in bullshit "human resources" departments taking over control of things like hiring and micromanagament of corporate life, as Barbara Garson has documented very well and Stephenson's Snow Crash satirizes with painful brilliance. So I'm guessing that here too, we'll see, on average, an economy more like that of, say, Egypt and an overall increase. Again, I'm reluctant to get this specific since we're talking more about cultural shifts than ones derived from endogenous factors. What I will guess is that wages will drop like a shot.
Computer and Mathematical:
emp: 3,191,360; wage: $72,190
One of the reasons that I left IT was because this field was calcifying. And the pay was going down. Again, I see a split here. Actual design is doing just fine (sorta) but I think that most operational jobs are going to hell in a handbacket, if not going away entirely. Drop by any discussion on Slashdot in recent years about jobs from CS-based programming to game design to being a sysadmin and they're more miserable every day. The golden age is over, folks. Sorry.
Architecture and Engineering:
emp: 2,486,020 ; wage: $68,880
Do y'all really believe that this sector will do well? I sure as hell don't. Again, the feedback I'm seeing and hearing from young engineers and architects is that they're being reduced to cogs at a slow but implacable pace. Will this be countered by more people making their livings in small firms? I hope so but I'm still betting on a considerable net decline unless customization comes to the rescue. Either way, median salaries will drop.
Life, Physical, and Social Science:
emp: 1,255,670; wage: $62,020
Speaking as a Portlander, I'm seeing some of the flaws to this ostensibly thriving sector. Companies who can't find the capital to get FDA approval. Shortages of qualified techs combined with increasing costs of training. Even so, here I agree with most people; this field should do just fine. Except for lab techs, half of whose jobs will be going away.
Community and Social Services:
emp: 1,793,040 ; wage: $40,540
Here it all comes down to politics, doesn't it? Actually, no. The jokes aren't funny anymore about social workers being replaced with a link to Google and the address of the nearest public internet access. I'm expecting these jobs to fall waay down.
emp: 998,590; wage: $88,450
Nice line of work if you can get it? Not anymore. Here, too, computerization is really starting to bite. Why hire a lawyer to incorporate if you can get perfectly good software at Staples for thirty bucks that's better than what most lawyers would do? This has been a guild for a long time and, like most guilds, its days are numbered once their services can be provided elsewhere much cheaper. Ask any young lawyer and you'll hear of trouble finding jobs and lower salaries. And record dropout rates as they figure out how bad it really is.
Education, Training, and Library:
emp: 8,316,360; wage: $46,610
Here computers may yet rip out the heart of the field and eat it for lunch. "Computerized training doesn't work!" Dude, once you include taped lectures on Youtube and iTunes, open source coursework and fast-improving software, videogames that teach quite well, and swiftly improving feedback systems, all combined with pressure to cut down a field thought of as a cost center by most relevant decisonmakers, and this field's employment numbers are doomed.
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media:
emp: 1,761,270; wage: $48,410
What happened to the number of paid typesetters when the Mac came out? Design fields have been shifting as each segment has computerized and internationalized. First jobs go down, then up as literacy about that field expands greatly, then back down even farther as people actually get good at doing it themselves and templates become widely available. I expect more of the same. Lots of people working in the field but a continuing decline in net income and working hours overall. Fewer salaried jobs, more part-timers, declining employment numbers and pay rates overall.
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical:
emp: 6,877,680 ; wage: $65,020
Ah, yes, the famed aging population and all that. Whatever. If three months in the hospital taught me anything it was that healthcare is handled very wastefully indeed. Once routine diagnostics are better done by a computer (which health insurance companies are pushing for very hard indeed) and true computerized records get working, we're going to see this segment's numbers go way down. Especially as medical advances routinize treatment of ever more once dangerous or complex problems and fears of iatropic infections increase.
But what about all the old people? What about them? That three months of hospitalization was preceded by four years of working in eldercare and I'm not in the least convinced that the current trend towards massive use of "heroic measures" in the last year of life will keep going like this. Quite the contrary. As I watched people in assisted living see what things like months in and out of ICUs did to the people around them, I saw more and more of them shift to a "when my time comes, let me go" philosophy. That's sure as hell what happened in the past ten years in my family. I'm betting on more hospice care and less authorization of aggressive response. On top of everything else, this phenomenon is great for the health insurance companies so you can look to see them start (subtly) encouraging it sooner or later. And, fwiw, better prenatal care and other factors are cutting the load on maintaining preemies. Again, health insurance providers are the motive power here. Guess what happens to employment when those shifts occur?
emp: 3,625,240; wage: $25,600
Another field experiencing a determined increase. And, again, I don't think that it will continue. Not only are robots coming fast, as well as machine-assisted means for people to take care of themselves, but things like cohousing are starting to cut demand. The Japanese will pay to develop most of the means of replacing most healthcare aids with machines. Changing living patterns and more self-sufficient elders will do the rest. In five years? No. But in twenty years? Count on it.
emp: 3,087,650; wage: $38,750
Sadly, I'm expecting continuing boom times here. What a shame. Until, that is, robots decimate it. Almost all of this is low-skill, predictable, and a combination of manual labor and explicitly hobbled decisonmaking. Perfect place for robots.
Food Preparation and Serving:
emp: 11,273,850; wage: $19,440
I've heard the urban legend that McDonalds built a working robotic restaurant in the eighties. Fifteen years from now it will be fact.
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance:
emp: 4,403,900; wage: $23,560
Roomba, anybody? The same company is already doing pool cleaners and lawnmowers. Most of these jobs are going the way of the buggy whip.
Personal Care and Service:
emp: 3,339,510; wage: $23,980
See above. Maybe nail salons and other palliatives to sore hearts will continue to thrive, but if far fewer people are working, I think that this will go away both because people won't need it as much and because they'll be able to get these things from friends.
Sales and Related:
emp: 14,332,020; wage: $35,240
See what I wrote about Walmart above. Sure, The GAP gains from having cute young things there to get you to buy more. Makes sense to me. So I'm guessing that the young, cute, and sociable will continue to find these jobs. But with a worsened employment picture, those jobs will get even less pleasant. Other than them? Have you seen Minority Report? Once store sensors know your pupil dilation, past buying patterns, and so on, an AI can sell more than most humans, not to mention stock the shelves, clean the space, etc. Add online sales and employment looks even worse.
Office and Administrative Support:
emp: 23,270,810 ; wage: $31,200
Oh, please. These jobs are doomed. Just about all of them. I expect that we'll see the return of the old-fashioned secretary for those who can afford them and lots of people paid to wait on line and otherwise help those with money route around our increasingly FUBARed world. Beyond that? Goodbye temp workers, hello silicon assistant.
Farming, Fishing, and Forestry:
emp: 448,000; wage: $22,640
As somebody in a logging state, I'm not optimistic here. Again, after several decades of false starts robots are getting good at much of this. Organic farming may buy some time for many but even that will probably be temporary.
Construction and Extraction:
emp: 6,708,200; wage: $40,620
See above. Back when I worked for a civil engineering magazine I got to see just how breathtakingly wasteful most American construction approaches really are. That's changing now. It will keep changing and demand for construction workers per amount built will keep going down. Sorry folks, but just like "made in Japan", "prefab" is going from mark of shoddiness to mark of quality. Employment consequences? Waaaaay down. As for mining, we can expect to see more and more of that being done at places like landfills and, again, robots will do most of the work.
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair:
emp: 5,390,090 ; wage: $39,930
emp: 10,146,560; wage: $31,310
Oh, lord. Do I even need to bother?
Transportation and Material Moving:
emp: 9,629,030 ; wage: $30,680
The Teamsters have had a damn good run, haven't they? It's ending now. The standardized shipping container cut them down a few decades back. New tracking and carrying means will cut them down to the bone. Most warehouses are going to fire at least ninety percent of their employees over the coming years. Rail is coming back as fast as rights of way can be made available. Every mass transit vehicle decreases the support serves needed per person-mile traveled. Even increased bike riding will probably play a role here. And as "insourcing" is replacing "outsourcing", less needs to move and it needs to move fewer miles. I literally expect to see 60% or more of these jobs go away.
Again, anybody with expertise to contribute here, I would be delighted to have you do so. But overall? The jobs are going away. Millions and millions of them. The sooner we admit that this is true and that a certain level of unemployment is inherent in how we run things, the better. As long as somebody without a job is looked upon as a person to be dealt with solely as a person to be retrained or as a lazy person to be beaten out of their sloth, we're just going to veer ever further from realistic solutions. Let's not wait. Let's start now.