If Jeremy Rifkin is right, the future of labor is bleak. Automation will displace most industrial workers in the 21st century and only 20 percent of Americans will have job security.
In such a scenario, the nation's expanding nonprofit sector can become a refuge for displaced workers and improve their mission of performing community services, said Mr. Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.
"It's the only arena that can absorb the millions of people who will lose jobs as we move into the post-market era," he told members of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations during their annual meeting yesterday at Martin's West in Woodlawn.
Mr. Rifkin hit on some of the points made in his most recent book, "The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era," which predicts the elimination of many traditional jobs because of continuing advances in technology, including computers and genetics research.
In a rapid-fire speech, he spewed out a rash of statistics and offered dire predictions, including what he believes will be the failure of Baltimore's Empowerment Zone. He said businesses will not relocate to depressed areas of the city where no market exists for their products and workers are unskilled.
Mr. Rifkin said businesses increasingly will look toward automation, and blue-collar factory workers will virtually disappear from the nation's landscape. He said retraining programs for those workers will prepare them for jobs that will no longer exist.
He said people whose jobs disappear should be encouraged to spend time with nonprofit organizations, either as volunteers or employees. He said governments ought to provide income vouchers or tax credits for those performing public service tasks at social-service nonprofits.
Some of those attending the meeting said they agreed with Mr. Rifkin's dire predictions, but they doubted that America's nonprofit sector will be able to take on large numbers of displaced workers.
But Mr. Rifkin urged nonprofit leaders to become a political force.
In Maryland, such a movement already has developed among the estimated 12,000 nonprofit organizations.
The Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations has grown to more than 500 members in its three years.