I have posted a number of times about the series of articles written by Richard Florida for The Atlantic. Go here for links to all of his articles – they provide a terrific overview seeking answers to this question: “where will the jobs be?” And his answer is two-fold: where will they be geographically? and where will they be by “sector?” Florida is the author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Great Reset, both worth your time.
But here’s another new question: where will the jobs be — by “age?” And, increasingly, they may be nowhere for the over 55 group (that’s me, by the way!).
The New York Times published this article by Motoko Rich: For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again. Here are some excerpts:
Patricia Reid is not in her 70s, an age when many Americans continue to work. She is not even in her 60s. She is just 57.
But four years after losing her job she cannot, in her darkest moments, escape a nagging thought: she may never work again.
College educated, with a degree in business administration, she is experienced, having worked for two decades as an internal auditor and analyst at Boeing before losing that job.
But that does not seem to matter, not for her and not for a growing number of people in their 50s and 60s who desperately want or need to work to pay for retirement and who are starting to worry that they may be discarded from the work force — forever.
Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group — 7.3 percent — is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession.
“Their skills have atrophied for one thing, and technology changes so rapidly that even if nothing happened to the skills that you have, they may become increasingly less relevant to the jobs that are becoming available.”
So, this job market is the toughest in my lifetime. The unemployment rate is high, and may not come down any time soon. Jobs are scarce. People are needing to work later in life, postponing retirement. And for the older group, even the well-educatied, jobs are more scarce than they were.
A challenging time, indeed! Listen to the fear: “But four years after losing her job she cannot, in her darkest moments, escape a nagging thought: she may never work again.”
“Huge numbers of Harvard grads poured into finance during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but all that’s changing now…”
Richard Florida, The Great Reset
I have commented often that there are some rather obvious themes that crop up, often enough, from enough divergent voices, that one begins to think that they represent truth. In Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, two journalists, confirm this idea with the language of their discipline. They are writing specifically about the rise of “Womenomics,” but the underlying truth is “pay attention to rising themes shared by many.” Here’s the quote:
As journalists, when we start to read successive reports that come up with similar conclusions, we call it a story. When the results are this conclusive and this notable we may even call it a headline.
So – here is the theme that I am now ready to put in the category of “this really is a story!” We have too many college graduates, and other workers, choosing disciplines that do not build our “Real Economy.”
I posted about this a while back with The Rise and Fall of Finance and the End of the Society of Organizations (a little “serious reading”), quoting from The Rise and Fall of Finance and the End of the Society of Organizations by Gerald F. Davis; and recently with “Traders” vs. “Builders” – the “Fantasy Economy” vs. the “Real Economy.” And the theme is cropping up seemingly everywhere. For example, here are some excerpts from a recent column by David Brooks, The Genteel Nation:
After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place.
The shift is evident at all levels of society. First, the elites. America’s brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting and nonprofit activism.
It would be embarrassing or at least countercultural for an Ivy League grad to go to Akron and work for a small manufacturing company. By contrast, in 2007, 58 percent of male Harvard graduates and 43 percent of female graduates went into finance and consulting.
Then there’s the middle class. The emergence of a service economy created a large population of junior and midlevel office workers. These white-collar workers absorbed their lifestyle standards from the Huxtable family of “The Cosby Show,” not the Kramden family of “The Honeymooners.” As these information workers tried to build lifestyles that fit their station, consumption and debt levels soared. The trade deficit exploded. The economy adjusted to meet their demand — underinvesting in manufacturing and tradable goods and overinvesting in retail and housing.
These office workers did not want their children regressing back to the working class, so you saw an explosion of communications majors and a shortage of high-skill technical workers. One of the perversities of this recession is that as the unemployment rate has risen, the job vacancy rate has risen, too. Manufacturing firms can’t find skilled machinists. Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank calculates that if we had a normal match between the skills workers possess and the skills employers require, then the unemployment rate would be 6.5 percent, not 9.6 percent.
There are several factors contributing to this mismatch (people are finding it hard to sell their homes and move to new opportunities), but one problem is that we have too many mortgage brokers and not enough mechanics.
Where people work really matters. Not the company, but the industry — the end product. When our smartest people built things that were tangible, usable, exportable, it really mattered. And it can again.
We’ve got a story here (to use the language of the journalists). And the bad news is that we can’t fix this by tomorrow afternoon. It will take a while. We have to champion and applaud jobs that represent and build the real economy. We have to reward people who go into such work. And it will take a few years of graduates shifting their plans and dreams to pull this off.
The Brooks article, and the Florida book, reveal that the movement away from “finance” has already started. But it has not yet created movement into the jobs that build the “real economy.”
I’ll end with this, another cautionary paragraph from Brooks:
The shift away from commercial values has been expressed well by Michelle Obama in a series of speeches. “Don’t go into corporate America,” she told a group of women in Ohio. “You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. … Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.
The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. This man leaves nothing. He creates nothing. He builds nothing. He runs nothing. And in his wake lies nothing but a blizzard of paper to cover the pain. Oh, if he said, “I know how to run your business better than you,” that would be something worth talking about. But he’s not saying that. He’s saying, “I’m going to kill you because at this particular moment in time, you’re worth more dead than alive.”
God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters.
• Andrew Jorgenson, played by Gregory Peck, Fictional CEO of New England Wire and Cable, Other People’s Money (read the full text and and listen to the speech at the terrific AmericanRhetoric.com site here. Watch the speech on youtube here).
I don’t make anything? I’m makin’ you money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You wanna make money! You don’t care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You wanna make money! I’m the only friend you’ve got. I’m makin’ you money.
• From the response by Lawrence Garfield, played by Danny DeVito, the fictional head of Garfield Investments, from the same movie. Full text of speech here. Watch the speech on youtube here).
Here’s the issue: “traders” (making money by trading things) vs. “builders” (real assets in the real economy).
In The Great Reset by Richard Florida, the list of thoughts to ponder is long. This is one that I can’t quite get out of my head. (by the way, I am sure many others have made this point – I just happened to have it jump out at me in Florida’s book).
For most of us, we tend to think of work as doing something tangible – almost physical. Although, admittedly I have not worked with my hands for a living since my short stints at a service station, and at a tennis center (in my junior high school days, when I checked the oil and put air in the tires, as I put in the gasoline, at Self Texaco in Harlingen, TX; and taught tennis one summer at a park/tennis center in Abilene, TX). Today, I get paid for speaking – actually for reading, pondering, preparing, and speaking. I suppose I am one of those “knowledge workers” that we all read so much about.
But Florida is talking about a more basic problem. He is talking about the outsized role of “finance” — finance disconnected from its earlier, far more constructive purpose. Here are a few paragraphs from the book:
The role of finance changed from being, in the words of William Black, a “servant” of the economy to a “predator.” Instead of supporting the real wealth producing parts of the economy, (the finance sector) has become a parasite on them.
We’re witnessing a replay of the age-old conflict between “traders” and “builders,” as Geoff Beattie, the head of Woodbridge, dubs it. Traders make money off, well, trading things. They create little or no real wealth, because they do not engage in productivity; they profit through trading. Builders, on the other hand, focus on investing in real assets in the real economy…
The landscape today is littered with instant tycoons who made their fortunes on tiny upticks in the stock market or by trading shares in other people’ debt.
For far too many of these traders, the only productivity was profit and their only customers were themselves.
I raise this to make this point: builders need to take their preeminent position back from the traders for the economy of the future to flourish.
I think Mr. Florida is correct. When more people work in the “real economy,” and when more people invest in investments in the “real economy,” the economy will be healthier than when people work in, and invest in, only the “fantasy economy.”
“Fantasy” – that’s what much of the finance sector sold and practiced in recent years. And this “fantasy economy” created the bubbles that crashed. And we now know how that turned out.
We had a wonderful gathering this morning for the September First Friday Book Synosis. Karl Krayer presented the best-seller, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (of Zappos fame). I presented the provocative book The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity by Richard Florida. Both of these synopses will be up soon on our companion web-site (with audio + handout) at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
For next month, October 1 (the First Friday of October), we have chosen these two books:
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance by Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, Catherine McCarthy Ph.D. (synopsis to be presented by Karl Krayer).
The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin, Monique Sternin. (I will present this synopsis).
In his review of the Schwartz book on our blog (read his full review here), Bob Morris wrote this:
Schwartz suggests that there are four categories of energy needs that must be accommodated for people to work at their best: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Only by fulfilling these generic needs can we fulfill corresponding needs: sustainability, security, self-expression, and significance. The illustration of all this on Page 9 bears at least some resemblance to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.”
And in his review of The Power of Positive Deviance (read his full review here), Bob Morris wrote this:
As for “positive deviance,” Richard Pasquale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin explain it as an awkward, oxymoronic term. “The concept is simple: look for outliers who succeed against all odds…The basic premise is this: (1) Solutions to seemingly intractable problems already exist, (2) they have been discovered by members of the community itself, and (3) these innovators (individual positive deviants) have succeeded even though they share the same constraints and barriers as others.”
We have a wonderful community of learners gathering on the First Friday of every month. If you are in the DFW area, come join us. (You will be able to register for this event from this web site soon).
There is a parable from the Bible that is really interesting. Jesus tells about a boss (landowner) who hires workers for his vineyard. He keeps hiring additional workers, throughout the day (at about three hour intervals) to work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, they are all given the same pay, even those who were chosen for the shortest amount of time at work. (The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16).
It is a tough parable to interpret. But maybe one meaning is this – it is in fact much more fulfilling, rewarding, human, to work than not to work. Maybe the landowner kept dishing out the sheer grace of providing work itself. Just having work to do is its own, very great reward.
And wishing you had work to do, when you have no work to do, can be very dehumanizing.
This I know. When I have work to do; when it is meaningful work; when I feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment; there is a deep joy in that experience. And, at times in my life when work was overflowing with conflict (oh, that is a frequent experience for so many – and, sadly, that was much of my experience in my earlier ministry days — and yes, much of it was probably my own fault), or when my work was not quite fully defined, or when my work was drudgery, then life itself felt unsettled. But when my work feels just right, it absolutely energizes me, fulfills me, even excites me.
This is the essence of these two quotes from Richard Florida in The Great Reset:
Each and every type of work – shop work, factory work, knowledge work, service work, agriculture work – can be meaningful and special, or it can be mind-numbing, monotonous, and dehumanizing. My greatest hope is that the current Reset can help us fashion a new commitment to work and enable every single person to do work he or she enjoys, that pays well, and that it truly motivating. At the end of the day, it’s not what we buy that truly fills our souls and gives us a positive self-image and identity, it’s the work we do. Work, after all, is what makes us human… Although we’ve set up a construct over time in which we compartmentalize work on one side and joyful relaxation on the other, work is key to happiness. We thrive when we do work that is challenging and exciting.
Too much of what led up to the crisis in the old bubble days – the conspicuous consumption, the latter-day Gatsbyism – was fueled by a need to fill a huge emotional and psychological void left by the absence of meaningful work. When people cease to find meaning in work, when work is boring, alienating, and dehumanizing, the only option becomes the urge to consume – to buy happiness off of the shelf, a phenomenon we now know cannot suffice in the long term.
What about you? Do you have meaningful work to do? If so, then consider yourself blessed, and be grateful, and diligent in the midst of such joy. Do you supervise others? Then aim to help them experience meaning in their work? Seek to reduce conflict, seek to encourage all in their work, and remember to always make work humanizing, never dehumanizing.
I am deep into The Great Reset by Richard Florida, which I am presenting this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis. I am thinking, pondering, and wondering just what the future after the current Great Reset will be like.
Mr. Florida is chronicling his “predictions” on the Atlantic site. (See the list of topics here – they are worth reading). Here is a paragraph from one of his recent posts, Where the Creative Class Jobs Will Be:
At bottom, a jobs strategy needs to start from a fundamental principle: That each and every human being is creative and that we can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us. For the first time in history, future economic development requires further human development. This means develop a strategy to nurture creativity across the board – on the farm, in the factory, and in offices, shops, non-profits, and a full gamut of service class work, as well as within the creative class. Our future depends on it.
“future economic development requires further human development.” Reading, thinking, learning in every way possible – this may be the only path to a prosperous tomorrow. We call the folks who gather at the First Friday Book Synopsis a community of learners – because life-long learning is now a job and life skill that is no longer optional.