It’s not easy being a social scientist during this election season, particularly if you like to feel well-informed. I don’t know about you, but on many days I am confronted by a flood of information that I feel woefully underequipped to process. Perhaps I should not let this bother me. I tell students in my research methods class that good scientists should be comfortable acknowledging what they do not know. It is just hard sometimes to take my own advice. Read More
The Luddite sees industrial robots everywhere and, fearing negative effects on employment, begins to rage against the machines.
Seeing the same robots, the (liberal) economist exclaims, “What marvelous labor-saving technology. This will maximize productivity, and jobs that are lost in this factory will be replaced with high-tech jobs elsewhere in the economy!”
The Marxist sighs, and responds, “Is this some sort of joke? In the US today, seventeen percent of the American workforce – 27 million individual workers – is unemployed or underemployed.”
I imagined this scenario as I read the most recent entry in the New York Times’ consistently excellent series on the iEconomy, which focused on a new generation of robots being deployed in manufacturing.
It’s an old debate, actually –think back to the 1950s, when a burgeoning literature emerged on the employment effect of automation. Or, think about fictitious portrayals such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which provided a dystopian image of a corporate-dominated society in which paid employment was virtually obsolete. More recently, we’ve seen books by such well-known scholars as Stanley Aronowitz, Jeremy Rifkin, Andre Gorz, and Ulrich Beck, among others, all adopting the Cassandra-like cry: Bid Farewell to Work!
A few days ago, I wrote about the ways in which the unemployment rate ‘hides’ the reality of unemployment. Yesterday, the Associated Press put out a story about long term unemployment that captures some of the daily struggles of several individuals who have been without work for some time. It was picked up by quite a few major newspapers, including the Washington Post. If you have not already seen the article, I highly encourage you to check it out.
Last week saw the release of monthly employment data by the Labor Department. At face value, the overall news was good – the unemployment rate in the United States, at approximately 8.6%, is at its lowest projected level in years. However, as a recent op-ed in The Economist noted, the state of the union remains dire. Much of the malaise can be felt within the ostensibly improving American job market, where in spite of some good news there are plenty of reasons to remain cautious.
These are tough times to be an unemployed job seeker. During in-depth interviews job seekers frequently tell me that applying for jobs “feels like you’re applying to a black hole.” Understandably so: Job seekers may submit hundreds of applications electronically without receiving a single acknowledgement. They often suspect that nobody even looks at their resumes.
In these dark times, job seekers who turn to support organizations or advice books often learn of a new “solution,” a technology that (in the words of one employment counselor) “has revolutionized job searching.” The technology is social media, and specifically social networking sites (SNS), such as LinkedIn. Support organizations across the U.S., including state-run “One Stop” centers, are now offering trainings to job seekers on how to use SNS platforms like LinkedIn. The mantra I hear at these trainings is that “if you are not on LinkedIn you are invisible.” The message resonates with job seekers.
More than a decade ago I was asked to organize an “Author Meets Critics” session dealing with Richard Sennett’s Corrosion of Character. Given the author’s prominence, it was no surprise when 200 people showed up for the session, and heard a set of probing comments from a distinguished panel. I reserved a few minutes for my own humble comments, and took that opportunity to lament how rarely our works succeed (as Sennett’s often do) in resonating with lay audiences. An old lament, I know. But it’s true. As a former colleague once put it, it’s as if many of us aren’t entirely comfortable allowing perfect strangers to buy our books.