Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Bleak outlook for the nation's employment [Commentary]

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) employment projections from 2012 through 2022 confirm what Americans already know: The nation is in a structural unemployment crisis, and the outlook is bleak.

The U.S. job market has changed radically. Jobs are much harder to get, and better paying jobs require higher education or more advanced technical training.

In 2012, workers with a post-secondary education or higher earned a median income of $57,770 — more than twice the $27,670 earned by those with only a high school diploma. However, 30 million Americans over 18 lack a high school diploma, and 142 million Americans over 25 lack a four-year college degree. More than 48 million Americans are now in low-paying jobs. Over 9 percent of young workers are unemployed, and many of them are in deep educational debt and forced to live with their parents.

The BLS also reports that growth in the labor force is stunted by both slower projected growth in the overall population and decline in labor force participation — and this in turn limits U.S. economic growth.

Health care and social assistance, the fastest growing sectors, will provide one-third of the projected increase in jobs. The construction sector will not return to its pre-recession highs. Employment is expected to decline in manufacturing, the federal government, agriculture, information and the utilities industries. Most of the jobs will be in service-providing industries and will be low-paying.

The jobs being created aren't like those we lost. Two-thirds of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were middle-income jobs. However, one-half of those created since then are low-wage jobs, and many of these are temporary.

The U.S. working world is changing rapidly. In their new book, "The Second Machine Age," Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee point to technology as the primary force driving the transformational job shifts. Technology's innovations and energies— robots, digitization and increasingly complex machines — are racing ahead and reinventing our lives and our economy. These developments produce wrenching change. Fewer people are working, and wages are flat or falling — even as productivity, profits, and the income and wealth of the top 1 percent soar.

Factors other than technology also contribute to these transformative changes and their impact on the U.S. worker. Outsourcing of jobs to low-wage workers abroad is only one of the unfavorable aspects of world trade and the global movement of capital. At home fewer workers are needed in manufacturing. The power of organized labor has shriveled. Rising health care costs have cut into wages.

The recent BLS projections forecast the economy's low-wage trajectory. Of the 20 occupations expected to add the most new jobs, only one — general and operational management — requires a degree as high as a bachelor's. Most of the other expanding occupations offer low or moderate pay.

A dysfunctional Washington barely acknowledges these looming realities, and it's unlikely there will be any serious Congressional action on the jobs front before 2017, and then, only if one party takes control.

New Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, like current public opinion polls, rates unemployment and jobs as the nation's top priority. Given the authoritative and dire projections, a new and farsighted American ingenuity is demanded. We've done it before. This is the critical challenge of our time.

Perry L. Wood is an attorney and founder of the Economic Club of Annapolis. His email is plweed@verizon.net.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • A plan for building Maryland's economy [Commentary]
    A plan for building Maryland's economy [Commentary]

    House speaker, Senate president join to tackle business competitiveness

  • Jews, outnumbered by Muslims, suffer under mob rule
    Jews, outnumbered by Muslims, suffer under mob rule

    In the wake of the terrorist attack on a kosher market in Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked French Jews to come home.

  • Baltimore: Gateway to America
    Baltimore: Gateway to America

    The Baltimore City Council just promulgated a new motto for the city of Baltimore: "The Birthplace of The Star Spangled Banner." I would like to suggest another, perhaps one that may also be shared with the state of Maryland: "The Gateway to America."

  • Who's watching the kids?
    Who's watching the kids?

    Quality, affordable child care. It was the first item on President Obama's shopping list in his State of the Union address. If the future is going to be about helping the struggling middle class, he said, quality, affordable child care for working parents is the linchpin.

  • A path forward for responsible gas shale regulations
    A path forward for responsible gas shale regulations

    Newly inaugurated Gov. Larry Hogan and his team have only a few weeks to review and take action on the previous administration's proposed "gold standard" rules governing oil and gas development in Western Maryland, or the regulations will go into effect.

  • Partnership and tolerance over partisanship
    Partnership and tolerance over partisanship

    Multitudes of Marylanders are enthusiastically celebrating the  inauguration of our state's 62nd governor, but some others — plagued with reservations and doubt — are skipping out on the festivities.

Comments
Loading