The Great Debate

The missing ingredient for middle-class jobs

Christopher “Topher” Polack began his Apple career as a “creative genius.” He thrived in his job fixing customers’ technology problems and quickly rose through the ranks, getting more on-the-job training along the way. But like most other members of his genius class, he eventually quit. He now works as a freelance consultant specializing in helping older people use technology.

“I wasn’t meant to be a cog,” says Polack, who increased his salary post-Apple.

Polack’s experience provides a blueprint for how to thrive in the modern labor market and points to the future of middle-class jobs. Unlike the industrial revolution, the latest technology revolution diminishes the value of long-term employment relationships and places a premium on individual skills. Workers like Polack are more mobile and take the skills they acquire from one job to the next. Yet America’s institutions haven’t fully adapted, and may be holding the economy back.

Technology — be it Apple software or the steam engine — has always led to changes in how people work. The agricultural revolution fundamentally altered the social and economic relationships that existed for centuries by decreasing demand for farm labor. Before the industrial revolution, small-scale artisans did manufacturing work at home, but then mechanization displaced them. They were replaced by urban factories, which offered steady employment and often terrible working conditions. Eventually employee unions helped introduce better labor conditions, more job stability and generous benefits, which encouraged job tenure.

But retaining employees for many years also made economic sense for employers. As the industrial age evolved, firms increasingly valued employees who understood the routines, machinery and politics of their employer.

The workplace’s new normal

Each year for International Women’s Day, a U.N.-designated holiday celebrated on Mar. 8, Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, conducts external global research that investigates the workplace and careers and what women and men around the world have to say about them. This year, possibly more than in any of the eight years we’ve conducted the research, respondents’ beliefs about careers and work-life balance paint a picture of change and a movement to a new normal in the workplace.

Accenture’s research was conducted via an online survey of 3,900 business executives from midsize to large organizations in 31 countries. Respondents were split evenly by gender and were balanced by age and level in their organizations. The margin of error for the total sample was approximately plus or minus 2 percent. You can see the report here.

Accenture found that more than half of both the women and men surveyed (57 percent and 59 percent, respectively) said they are dissatisfied with their jobs, but more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the same respondents said they plan to stay with their current employers. What that means: The workforce is dissatisfied, yet stable. That presents an opportunity for companies to better support their employees by offering career advancement, more flexible work schedules, and new skill acquisition and training in the workplace. Unhappy employees aren’t looking to leave — that’s a bit of knowledge companies can use.

Why our employment figures are wrong

By Sara Horowitz

The opinions expressed are her own.

The national employment figures are an economic bellwether. They profoundly affect U.S. markets, consumer spending, and even the fate of national elections. With so much at stake, you’d think we would be counting the workforce accurately. Unfortunately, we’re not.

The United States treats jobs as something turned on or off—employed or unemployed—but that binary view no longer reflects how Americans really work. Whereas in the middle of the 20th century industrial employees worked one job for one company, today, there are 42 million consultants, independent contractors, entrepreneurs and freelancers working multiple gigs for multiple clients.

Although independent workers were a full one-third of the U.S. workforce at last count (which was 6 years ago), they aren’t counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in a consistent and ongoing way. Current statistics tend to lump workers into one of three classes: private wage and salary workers, government workers, and the self-employed. But these groupings don’t account for the nuances in how people work now and the overlap between groups. For example, on-call or contract workers might be lumped in with wage and salary workers, when really they’re independent workers. As a result, our outdated numbers have led to outdated policies that no longer meet the needs of America’s 21st century workforce.

from Reuters Money:

Is the American Dream dead?

The American Dream lures people from all over the world, and it’s because of this possibility: If you come here and work hard, your kids will have a better life than you.

What if that weren’t true anymore?

Record debt, persistent joblessness, millions of underwater mortgages and a stock market that hasn’t gone anywhere in 10 years: For today’s kids who are entering the job market, it’s hardly a recipe for future success.

For parents who only want the best for their children, those prospects are like a wrenching pit in our stomachs. When such a central pillar of the American story is falling apart, frantic moms and dads hardly know what to think.

Fed stuck doing the heavy lifting

-James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-
With employment weak and consumer credit weaker, look for extended official measures to support the U.S. economy.

Recent data show that despite emerging glimmers in manufacturing, de-stocking having reached its limit, and some strong showings globally, the U.S. recovery is far from self-sustaining.

With Congress serving as an effective roadblock to a comprehensively expanding fiscal stimulus, the heavy lifting, if any is to be done, may fall on monetary policy and “off balance sheet” forms of stimulus.

Thousands lose jobs due to higher federal minimum wage

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. —

As President Obama considers whether to fulfill his campaign promise to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour by 2011, there’s no better illustration of the consequences of well-intentioned policy-making than recent events in American Samoa, a United States territory in the South Pacific that falls within the purview of Congress.

Chicken of the Sea, the tuna company, announced this month that it will close its canning plant in American Samoa in September. The culprit is 2007 legislation in Washington that gradually increased the islands’ minimum wage until it reaches $7.25 an hour in July 2009, almost double the 2007 levels.

China’s growth obsession may spawn jobless upturn

Wei Gu – Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

China is pulling all the stops to keep the economy growing by at least 8 percent, a pace considered necessary to absorb millions of migrant workers and graduates that hit the job market every year.

Ironically, with all its attention focused on the vigorous “defense of the eight”, Beijing risks losing sight of its ultimate goal — creating enough jobs to preserve social peace — and may end up engineering a jobless recovery.

Can the G20 do “big” outcomes?


George Magnus is Senior Economic Adviser, UBS Investment Bank, and author of “The Age of Aging: How Demographics Are Changing The Global Economy And Our World”. Any opinions expressed are his own.

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has unleashed a welcome torrent of optimism during hard times. Aside from an especially demanding domestic policy agenda, the new president will also have his work cut out to rebuild the authority of and respect for U.S. leadership in the global community.

The G20 meeting in Washington on November 14-15, billed as the forum for rebuilding the world’s financial architecture, could not be happening at a more important time. We should be under no illusion, however, that results will occur in a week, despite the expectations. Anyway, the G20 has the more pressing issue of countering global financial instability and the global recession.