Invitation To A Dialogue: A Permanent Job Crisis

To the Editor:


Re “Where Have All the Jobs Gone?,” by Jared Bernstein (Op-Ed, May 3):

Unemployment is staying high despite the end of the recession because we are now in a historic transition. Because of automation, globalization, efficiency and other factors, we no longer need the share of people working that we have had in the past. With these trends moving in only one direction, it is clear that the job crisis is permanent and will not go away with better economic times.

We can see this shift in recent social patterns. Working ages, once routinely 21 to 65, are narrowing, with younger people dependent longer and those older, often thrown out of their careers, increasingly choosing different lifestyles. More Americans without realistic expectations of supporting themselves legally are falling into bad habits, a problem cutting across racial, regional and urban-rural lines.

The “brain drain” no longer refers to workers coming to the United States; it now means foreigners going home after being educated here, or even our citizens moving elsewhere. Since women have weathered the trends better as a group, we are having new tensions between the sexes, with unemployed, directionless men becoming more common.

Protectionist solutions will not solve this core problem. A more effective measure would be a Works Progress Administration-style infrastructure project, which with relatively low labor and material costs will never be cheaper than now. Also beneficial would be reducing work hours, to spread work around while improving our quality of life.

If we continue assuming that the job shortage will resolve itself, we risk dire consequences. More Americans will be without hope or purpose. Companies of all sizes may crash from lack of customers.

The challenge for our public policy as well as for Americans individually is to adapt to the permanent nature of what we are facing.

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Shari Olefson's picture
Shari Olefson

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