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Middle Class[Income] Jobs ain't Coming Back?
Old 01-23-2013, 08:26 AM   #1
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Middle Class[Income] Jobs ain't Coming Back?

AP IMPACT: Recession, tech kill middle-class jobs - Toshiba

If true this is a VERY disturbing as it is the middle class that drives the economy & pays the majority of gov't funding which funds already shaky senior entitlements.

This could lead to major political upheavals & population class conflicts.

Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

And the situation is even worse than it appears.


Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What's more, these jobs aren't just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren't just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They're being obliterated by technology.

Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done.


"The jobs that are going away aren't coming back," says Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of "Race Against the Machine." `'I have never seen a period where computers demonstrated as many skills and abilities as they have over the past seven years.

The global economy is being reshaped by machines that generate and analyze vast amounts of data;.... instead of installing expensive equipment and hiring IT staffs to run it. Whole employment categories, from secretaries to travel agents, are starting to disappear.

"There's no sector of the economy that's going to get a pass," says Martin Ford, who runs a software company and wrote "The Lights in the Tunnel," a book predicting widespread job losses. "It's everywhere."

The numbers startle even labor economists. In the United States, half the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession were in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. But only 2 percent of the 3.5 million jobs gained since the recession ended in June 2009 are in midpay industries. Nearly 70 percent are in low-pay industries, 29 percent in industries that pay well.


For those who are retired & have retirement savings stock returns could accelerate due to higher profits.

Thanks to technology, companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index reported one-third more profit the past year than they earned the year before the Great Recession.


this trend is not restricted to the US.

European companies had been using technology to replace midpay workers for years, and now that has accelerated.

In Canada, a 2011 study by economists at the University of British Columbia and York University in Toronto found a similar pattern of middle-class losses, though they were working with older data. In the 15 years through 2006, the share of total jobs held by many midpay, midskill occupations shrank. The share held by foremen fell 37 percent, workers in administrative and senior clerical roles fell 18 percent and those in sales and service fell 12 percent.

In Japan, a 2009 report from Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo documented a "substantial" drop in midpay, midskill jobs in the five years through 2005, and linked it to technology.

Developing economies have been spared the technological onslaught — for now. Countries like Brazil and China are still growing middle-class jobs because they're shifting from export-driven to consumer-based economies. But even they are beginning to use more machines in manufacturing. The cheap labor they relied on to make goods from apparel to electronics is no longer so cheap as their living standards rise.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:35 AM   #2
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This trend is only going to accelerate, as advances in technology accelerate.

I was reading the other day about developments in robots that essentially replace migrant farm workers. While not necessarily "middle class", this is an example of highly advanced robotics replacing an entire job description.

I've also seen demos of robots that can take a table full of dirty dishes, and go through the whole cycle of washing, drying, and putting away. Same with laundry. This robot is not in mass production and is valued at ~$400k today, but if we throw in Moore's law, we've got robot butlers available in roughly 12 years for $6250. Robotics is getting crazy good at replacing jobs and replacing inane activities that people have to do today.

I think that within my lifetime, we'll be faced with the very real possibility that sub 5% unemployment is just not possible anymore. We might have to start dealing with the societal implications that we just don't need a large number of people to "work" in a job anymore. While the post-scarcity idea is both horrific and intriguing, society is going to need to figure out a smooth transition or it could be chaos.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:40 AM   #3
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Two wild cards are political stability and energy prices. Yes, for information-based products energy prices aren't a major mover, but for manufacturing, especially large, heavy items some manufacturing could come back as global wages slowly approach equilibrium and the increased transportation cost of shipping goods overseas wipes out the labor cost advantage. And at or near that point, it would be good political PR (and no longer cost prohibitive) to bring the jobs back home.

In any event, automation won't stop any time soon and we have to realize that in the future, 10-15% unemployment (or more) might be the new normal, and we have to figure out how to adapt to that without massive social unrest -- not just from the unemployed but by those whose wages keep getting reduced by high unemployment.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:42 AM   #4
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The global economy is being reshaped by machines that generate and analyze vast amounts of data;.... instead of installing expensive equipment and hiring IT staffs to run it. Whole employment categories, from secretaries to travel agents, are starting to disappear.
I think this article was first published 100 years ago. The latest revision replaced "from buggy whip designers to blacksmiths" with "from secretaries to travel agents".

The trail of economic history is littered with changes in the structure of jobs/labor due to changing technology.

Our economy has prospered through our ability to adapt to change. Nothing new about the need to continue to do that if we want to maintain a decent standard of living.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:45 AM   #5
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I recently called in my go-to computer guy to help with a hard disk crash. He says business has not been good as consumers move away from PCs to tablets and Apple products. There is simply less tinkering that can be done.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:48 AM   #6
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I recently called in my go-to computer guy to help with a hard disk crash. He says business has not been good as consumers move away from PCs to tablets and Apple products. There is simply less tinkering that can be done.
This has been the case for most electronic gadgets for a long time. Think about appliance and TV repair. These days, the cost of local labor (often $75-100 per hour) to troubleshoot and fix broken gadgets makes fixing repairable gadgets a bad "investment." When you can spend $100 to fix an older unit or pay $500 for a brand new one, the decision to fix isn't hard. But as domestic labor costs drive repair costs much higher compared to cheap overseas labor building a new unit, when it costs $400 to fix something (using "living wage" labor) that costs $500 new (made in China), you throw the old one away and completely replace it. And another category of domestic, decent-wage jobs goes bye-bye.
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"Hey, for every ten dollars, that's another hour that I have to be in the work place. That's an hour of my life. And my life is a very finite thing. I have only 'x' number of hours left before I'm dead. So how do I want to use these hours of my life? Do I want to use them just spending it on more crap and more stuff, or do I want to start getting a handle on it and using my life more intelligently?" -- Joe Dominguez (1938 - 1997)

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Old 01-23-2013, 08:52 AM   #7
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Our economy has prospered through our ability to adapt to change. Nothing new about the need to continue to do that if we want to maintain a decent standard of living.
+1

Jobs going away to never return has led to immense improvements in productivity and standard of living for so many people. The world still has billions living under sub-standard conditions. Won't more productivity improvements lead to even more benefit for more people?
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:55 AM   #8
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Ironically, those of us who are invested in the market have been making profits from companies who are able to best take advantage of technological advances to lower cost and increase profits.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:56 AM   #9
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I think this article was first published 100 years ago. The latest revision replaced "from buggy whip designers to blacksmiths" with "from secretaries to travel agents".

The trail of economic history is littered with changes in the structure of jobs/labor due to changing technology.

Our economy has prospered through our ability to adapt to change. Nothing new about the need to continue to do that if we want to maintain a decent standard of living.
Agreed, but the concept of "creative destruction" is no longer at a national economic scale, it's now global. Plus, the new industries (largely in information) don't scale well in terms of creating jobs.

When buggy whip makers lost their jobs, many could find work with Henry Ford -- and the pay was likely better, increasing their standard of living.

When US manufacturing took its first big long-term dive in the 1970s, the high-tech industry was just revving up, and these displaced manufacturing workers could often find work manufacturing and assembling electronics (this was a huge Silicon Valley occupation in the 1980s.) Again, these jobs often paid more, and were often less dangerous than heavy manufacturing. Creative destruction still worked for a *domestic* economy.

But now? Creative destruction is still at work but on a global scale. The jobs lost here ARE being recycled into new industries and jobs elsewhere...but at lower wages. And while it's not entirely a zero-sum game, it's close enough that the gain of those countries is largely our loss. And since we are now an economy where most employers refuse to retrain or hire people who don't have the *exact* skill set and education they demand today, job skills are no longer as portable as they used to be. In today's economy Ford would not hire buggy whip makers, and high tech companies in the 1980s would not have hired laid off assembly line workers.

Not to mention that information-based products don't create many more jobs as demand increases. Historically, if you are an automaker and your sales triple, you probably need to nearly triple your workforce. Today? If demand for computer software or information-based services triple, you don't need to come anywhere *near* tripling your staff; you may need a few more Sales and Support folks but you don't need 3x the people "building" the product or anywhere near it.

To suggest that today's economy is shaped by the same forces that allowed our economy to grow and flourish over the last 100+ years is, IMO, wishful thinking. The game has changed, at least until global wages have all converged to near uniformity.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:05 AM   #10
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I think the greater issue is that politicians and educators are *very* slow to recognize that that world is changing and that they cannot bring back job roles of yore. Rather than focus on short term "jobs" plans that promote the very jobs are vanishing, they need to look forward and look at enabling people to prepare for jobs of the future. That requires a major upheaval in many of our institution (education, financial, governmental). Unfortunately there are too many folks with power that invested in the old ways to want to do this so it doesn't give me much hope... but I'll hang onto that glimmer of hope.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:10 AM   #11
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I think the greater issue is that politicians and educators are *very* slow to recognize that that world is changing and that they cannot bring back job roles of yore. Rather than focus on short term "jobs" plans that promote the very jobs are vanishing, they need to look forward and look at enabling people to prepare for jobs of the future. That requires a major upheaval in many of our institution (education, financial, governmental). Unfortunately there are too many folks with power that invested in the old ways to want to do this so it doesn't give me much hope... but I'll hang onto that glimmer of hope.
I'd say it's not just education, financial and governmental institutions. Business has a hand in it as well.

Corporate America now expects the taxpayers to pay for the skills they need almost entirely. "On the job training" is dead; Corporate America today (unreasonably, IMO) expects new hires to be almost 100% productive on Day One, with skills entirely paid for by other entities. How much do we bend over and pay through the nose to give them what they want, without expecting them to meet us halfway? But as soon as you start suggesting business has to make an investment in this as well -- not just individuals and taxpayers -- it throws a tantrum and threatens to move even more jobs overseas.

Now I know business is "in business" to make a profit and I see nothing immoral about that in the general case. But at what point do we start demanding that our investments in the training and education they say they need actually provides "return on investment" in terms of more domestic jobs and compensation that doesn't keep losing ground to inflation?
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"Hey, for every ten dollars, that's another hour that I have to be in the work place. That's an hour of my life. And my life is a very finite thing. I have only 'x' number of hours left before I'm dead. So how do I want to use these hours of my life? Do I want to use them just spending it on more crap and more stuff, or do I want to start getting a handle on it and using my life more intelligently?" -- Joe Dominguez (1938 - 1997)

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Old 01-23-2013, 09:26 AM   #12
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Our economy has prospered through our ability to adapt to change. Nothing new about the need to continue to do that if we want to maintain a decent standard of living.
+2. Our prospects may look bleak, but we've had massive shifts in our economy before, and enjoyed unimaginable prosperity.

The most obvious example is mechanization of agriculture. While 50% of the population was engaged in ag in 1870 and many more were before that, today less than 2% of Americans are involved in agriculture. And yet we have a surplus of food available year round. All those displaced farmers were easily assimilated, at a much improved standard of living.

Not a complete list, but the assembly line, steam powered rail & ships, planes, internal combustion engines for cars & trucks, electricity, fossil fuels, telephones, interstate highways were transformational. In our lifetimes space flight, satellites, mini computers, personal computers, cellular phones, and the internet with mobile in it's infancy (some say mobile will be bigger than we realize).

We never know what's next but we've absorbed displaced workers and improved standard of living many times before, some say it will be mobile, health care, education.

What stands in the way? It's a global world now, and that won't change soon (but it may eventually). Education, to continue innovation, the US has lost ground. Geopolitical, always hard to predict, and the consequences can override everything else. To name a few...
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:28 AM   #13
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+1

Jobs going away to never return has led to immense improvements in productivity and standard of living for so many people. The world still has billions living under sub-standard conditions. Won't more productivity improvements lead to even more benefit for more people?
This kind of reminded me of the old Milton Friedman story about spoons in the WSJ:

At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a work site where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:32 AM   #14
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I'd say it's not just education, financial and governmental institutions. Business has a hand in it as well.

Corporate America now expects the taxpayers to pay for the skills they need almost entirely. "On the job training" is dead; Corporate America today (unreasonably, IMO) expects new hires to be almost 100% productive on Day One, with skills entirely paid for by other entities. How much do we bend over and pay through the nose to give them what they want, without expecting them to meet us halfway? But as soon as you start suggesting business has to make an investment in this as well -- not just individuals and taxpayers -- it throws a tantrum and threatens to move even more jobs overseas.

Now I know business is "in business" to make a profit and I see nothing immoral about that in the general case. But at what point do we start demanding that our investments in the training and education they say they need actually provides "return on investment" in terms of more domestic jobs and compensation that doesn't keep losing ground to inflation?
Business has a hand it in as well. But I at least see business making some efforts. For example,in my community they have done things such an allow employees to teach "skills" courses at colleges where they, not the college, cover the employee salary. Some large companies are also partnering with colleges to get them to teach courses with skills that they will want to hire. However, the reaction to those efforts has included accusations of trying to "brand" students to favor certain companies from a consumer standpoint.

A specific area where I fully agree with you is something the government is complicit in - the H1B visa nonsense. Business claiming they cannot find skilled workers for well paying jobs and the government accepting that without challenging them on that point. When you see a government created "Jobs Council" made up of many companies that are the prime job outsourcers, you have to wonder what is going on.
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Old 01-23-2013, 10:07 AM   #15
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I'd say it's not just education, financial and governmental institutions. Business has a hand in it as well.

Corporate America now expects the taxpayers to pay for the skills they need almost entirely. "On the job training" is dead; Corporate America today (unreasonably, IMO) expects new hires to be almost 100% productive on Day One, with skills entirely paid for by other entities. How much do we bend over and pay through the nose to give them what they want, without expecting them to meet us halfway? But as soon as you start suggesting business has to make an investment in this as well -- not just individuals and taxpayers -- it throws a tantrum and threatens to move even more jobs overseas.

Now I know business is "in business" to make a profit and I see nothing immoral about that in the general case. But at what point do we start demanding that our investments in the training and education they say they need actually provides "return on investment" in terms of more domestic jobs and compensation that doesn't keep losing ground to inflation?
I don't disagree, but isn't Corp behavior mostly a case of supply & demand? There's a lot of excess labor right now, and cheaper labor in today's global world. I'm not sure that all Corporations are any more or less inclined to act for the common good, I am not sure today's CEOs are any better or worse in terms of common good than the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Carnegies, (JP) Morgans, Fords, Astors or even Gates on their own?

Compounding that, while business could once act based on domestic business & labor only, those days may never come back. We're going to have to compete globally.

And after a career hiring factory workers, the gap between what schools turn out and what's needed has become too wide for business to bridge. We had moderately sophisticated process control & quality systems, and increasingly applicants came to us with poor math & computer skills. We couldn't have brought them up to speed from the skill set they brought to the table. And I am sure the decent jobs of tomorrow (and even today in many industries) will require even more advanced skills.

Not disagreeing or asking for a fight, I wish I knew the answer.
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Old 01-23-2013, 10:47 AM   #16
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Business has a hand it in as well. But I at least see business making some efforts. For example,in my community they have done things such an allow employees to teach "skills" courses at colleges where they, not the college, cover the employee salary. Some large companies are also partnering with colleges to get them to teach courses with skills that they will want to hire. However, the reaction to those efforts has included accusations of trying to "brand" students to favor certain companies from a consumer standpoint.

A specific area where I fully agree with you is something the government is complicit in - the H1B visa nonsense. Business claiming they cannot find skilled workers for well paying jobs and the government accepting that without challenging them on that point. When you see a government created "Jobs Council" made up of many companies that are the prime job outsourcers, you have to wonder what is going on.
Heck - H1B is so 2-3 years ago. now it's all about the L1 visa. None of those pesky annual caps... Import as many workers as you can, from your offshore facilities.

I work for an US based international company - and most of our "new workers" are actually transfers from our Bangalore and Nanjing on L1 visas. It's green card eligible, spouses can work (L2 visa vs the H4 visa for spouses of H1B folks)
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Old 01-23-2013, 11:57 AM   #17
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Maybe we're just shifting one set of jobs for other jobs.

Someone has to build those machines. Intel, Moto, IBM, AMAT etc etc etc as well as the software guys MSFT, GOOG, APPL and so on.
They all employ lots of people and not all of those jobs are for whiz kids...lots of maintenance, cafeteria, plumbers, security etc etc are needed.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:17 PM   #18
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:49 PM   #19
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but for manufacturing, especially large, heavy items some manufacturing could come back as global wages slowly approach equilibrium and the increased transportation cost of shipping goods overseas wipes out the labor cost advantage.
Factories are now pretty automated. The US is behind the curve in auto manufacturing due to unions. Below is a link on how ford makes cars in Brazil.

FORD'S TEST BED: Brazil's Camaçari plant is model for the future | The Detroit News | detroitnews.com
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:52 PM   #20
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I think this article was first published 100 years ago. The latest revision replaced "from buggy whip designers to blacksmiths" with "from secretaries to travel agents".

The trail of economic history is littered with changes in the structure of jobs/labor due to changing technology.

Our economy has prospered through our ability to adapt to change. Nothing new about the need to continue to do that if we want to maintain a decent standard of living.
While the trend is not new. The scale of it is. And the frequency of specific industry middle job loss is higher due the rapidly increased technology evolution. Which means a person may have 3 or 4 careers in their lifetime. Which means much more retraining & cost of that training disrupting their earnings. Which means mebbe people will work til they die.

I'm glad I'm an old geezer that doesn't have to deal with this Brave New World.
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