Labor in flux

The Great Recession, digital revolution lead to big changes for Americans

Keywords: Durango Herald,

Labor comes in ever-changing forms in this country and in the world. The skills needed a hundred years ago, or 50, or even 25, are different than those that are needed today. That is because the workplace has changed and is continuously changing.

In some respects, there is not much good news in these changes. Employment numbers nationally are higher than what they were before the mortgage-induced economic collapse in 2008, but the jobs are different. Fewer skills are required, pay is lower, the jobs are even less likely to be career-track than they were such a short time ago.

Wages are flat to only slightly up in recent years, and for low-wage earners, multiple jobs are increasingly required.

On the other hand, there are pluses. The digital revolution seems to have spawned an incredible numbers of jobs that did not exist previously. Retailers market and sell digitally, incorporating social media. Businesses must have an Internet presence, and an effective one. People, in order to be in touch far beyond their neighborhoods, have flocked to Facebook, LinkedIn and other more minor shared sites. Very few movies are rented any longer from a corner store or come from Redbox. Thousands of titles arrive in millions of homes electronically.

And all the electronic technology that makes all this possible is ever-evolving to offer more options, to be faster, to be less costly and more competitive. Jobs have to be created and filled to make that happen.

At the other end of the employment spectrum, the strength and prevalence of philanthropy affirms the existence of a portion of the economy that has grown in size and should continue to grow.

How to increase the likelihood of employment and then gain an increasingly better job? Over and over again, it is said, succeed at a good education. A high school degree is an absolute must, then a year or two of specialization at a community college. Better yet is a four-year degree with courses that provide an underpinning in the humanities and the broad beginnings of a specialty. Graduate school comes next to provide serious expertise.

Throughout the recent fierce economic stresses that began in 2008, the unemployment rate for those with a college degree has been half the rate for those without one.

Want employment or a more satisfying and financially rewarding position? Be willing to move. There are some good jobs in this country in places where, for some reason, there are insufficient or wrongly skilled personnel. That will mean postponing living where you want, which might include being near family, but it could provide the beginnings of a career that will allow you to circle back.

Obamacare plays into matching jobs with workers, too, an important part of the future economy. A health-care plan is less likely to be the reason not to work at what you want, or not to move upward with another company. Only the smallest businesses will be excused from having to provide health-insurance plans, with all others either having to have plans or provide premium stipends. One day, health insurance will be fully portable, a great benefit to both employees and to employers.

We say thanks to those who labor, who match providing for themselves and their families with providing the goods and services that others need and want. For everyone, some days on the job are more satisfying than others. Let’s hope that there are many more of the former than the latter.