Employment

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The Federal Government has hailed the latest unemployment figures (5.7%), pointing out that the rate had fallen marginally and that new jobs had been created. In fact, in the last year Australian job seekers filled 71,600 newly created positions. Trouble is, not a single one of them was full-time, not one. All were part-time and casual jobs. Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, praised the figures, despite the continuing fall in full-time employment, spruiking the benefits of part-time jobs saying “A job is a job” and that part-time work offers flexibility and is a blessing in disguise.
I immediately questioned the conservative narrative that our employment trends are positive and that any job is a good job. I decided to research both the psychology of employment and its history and its place in our society, noting that we don’t live in an economy but rather a society. Employment, I assumed, is meant to be a positive contribution to a functional society. But does it matter if it is largely becoming part-time and casual and, if so, what are the consequences. And what is the likely future of employment?
Global research conclusions have been remarkably similar: the world of work is going to change even faster than most of us can imagine. And it is accelerating right now. The "digital revolution", including 3D printing, will accelerate the process further by changing the global supply chains. Job markets will be impacted by this evolution in both developed and developing countries. These trends need to be fully taken into account in the context of the current fragile recovery from the recent jobs crisis and given the global challenge to create 470 million jobs between 2015 and 2030 just to keep up with the growth of the world’s working age population.


The Future

Rice University computer science professor Moshe Vardi says that in 25 years “driving [done] by people will look quaint; it will look like a horse and buggy.” So there go many of the approximately a million driving jobs out there. Smarter computers mean that any mid-paying job that involves a routine: data entry, number crunching, operations, and so on, will be replaced as well, which will remove a big piece of the approximately 2 million business and financial operations jobs that exist. When you add all of that up, some think 50 per cent unemployment is optimistic. Software entrepreneur Martin Ford predicts something closer to 75 per cent unemployment by the end of the century. “The vast majority of people do routine work,” Ford says. “The human economy has always demanded routine work.”  And eventually, the work won’t be done by humans. There won’t be enough of the extremely specialised new digital jobs to provide the employment required, no matter how we’re educating people. Our new industries simply aren’t labour-intensive. And those lower end jobs are low paying, and may also end up being replaced as robots get better at specialised tasks, So income inequality will rise as unemployment increases, further slowing growth. It’s a doomsday scenario that has nothing to do with natural disasters or global warming, but with the fact that technology is changing too rapidly for our economy or society to catch up.


The Consequences

The most obvious consequences in the changes in our employment structure for the individual average worker are financial and social insecurity. These insecurities lead directly to anxiety, a disorder associated with everything from obesity, to domestic violence, crime and poor productivity. Modern anxiety is increased by having too much choice in the things that don’t matter, and less choice in those that do. What we do for a living and how happy that makes us does matter. Anxiety and stress have been proven to be the most costly (in economic and social terms) of all physical and mental disorders. Anxiety is costly. It costs us in physical, emotional, and financial terms. However, it does not stop there. It also incurs huge financial burden for the society as a whole. Anxiety, worry, and stress disrupt relationships, family, and work. Evidently, if you have an issue with anxiety, you incur the cost of having distressed feelings. Anxiety feels awful. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that. Even so, did you know that if left untreated anxiety may run up a tab in a few other ways as well? Those costs relate to physical and mental incapacity that take a toll on everything from our health to our ability to think rationally and form functional relationships. Reduced productivity is occasionally due to existing health problems made more serious by anxiety. However, the financial costs from healthcare costs and downtime does not include the money lost to substance and alcohol abuse, which many people with anxiety disorders often turn to when dealing with their anxiety problem. Thus, indirectly and directly, anxiety extracts a prodigious toll on both the individual who suffer it and community at large.
There is a big difference between a job and a career. Job security brings career and financial stability. Instead of addressing short-term issues, such as finding a new job and worrying over bills and debts, you can plan your future carefully, build status in your chosen field and build up plenty of savings for retirement. This was the norm of bygone years, but things are changing rapidly. A career filled with job satisfaction matters – it and a stable family environment are the cornerstones of a functional society.


Job insecurity means lost hope and dreams. What was once dubbed “the great Australian dream” is almost deceased. Owning your own home has become a virtual impossibility for most young Australians. By next year (2017) less than 50 of all Australians will own their own home. In 1966 that figure was 71.4%. For people aged less than 35 years, the ownership figure is around 28%. And the trend is undeniable, home ownership rates will continue to decline. Some people dismiss the relevance of home ownership. But research shows that with prudent underwriting, the attainment of homeownership confers benefits for families and their communities. These benefits include improved health and school outcomes for children, increased civic engagement and volunteerism, reduced crime and higher lifetime wealth. There exists a plethora of academic literature spanning the fields of economics, political science, sociology, geography and medicine documenting consistent and measurable benefits for families and their neighbourhoods from homeownership.
Why? It’s economics. Ownership means the residents of a neighbourhood gain an additional reason to care about their future – the financial value of their investment. Unlike stocks and bonds, a home's value is determined by its physical features as well as its environment. Because of this stakeholder status, homeowners are more likely to use their scarce time and resources to improve their community. And this results in more civic engagement, more volunteerism and other socially desirable outcomes. In the medium-term, the future of homeownership depends on job creation and income growth for younger workers. But part-time and casual jobs are not the answer. Governments need to come up with policies that lead to the creation of full-time employment. In social terms, job security and the prospect of advancement, things inherently associated with full-time employment, have been shown to be major contributors to overall job satisfaction and productivity.

The other lost dream is what was once called a person’s “dream job”. When I was growing up kids left school clearly split fairly evenly into two groups. There were those, like me, who had no idea what sort of career they wanted to pursue. And then there were those who knew exactly what they wanted to do, those whose dream job would be their chosen career path. And, at that time, there existed the opportunity for those lucky people to immediately chase their dream, knowing that there was every chance their ambitions would be achieved. They had reason to hope, reason to plan, and reason to live. For an overpaid career politician such as Mr. Morrison with access to what some call the “parasite pension” to imply that people should be happy to have just any job is ignorant and insulting. And it’s destructive in so many ways.

The History of Employment.

Some historians suggest that slavery is older than employment, but both arrangements have existedforall recorded history. Indenturing and slavery are not considered compatible with human rights and democracy, while employment (wages for work) is considered as a means to improve lives and provide opportunity. And there is no doubt that it continues to do so to a great extent, but changes in employment over the ages has blurred its application. Over the 20th century there has been a significant shift from a workforce composed mostly of manual workers to one comprising mostly white-collar and service workers. Early 20th century unemployment had its ups and downs, with the jobless rate ranging from less than three percent in the first eight years to almost a third of all workers during the Great Depression. The Wall Street crash in October 1929 signalled the beginning of a severe depression for the whole industrialised world. After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost 32% of Australians were out of work.

But by 1950 the unemployment rate was barely noticeable, and the majority of people were employed on a full-time basis. Between 1950 and 1973 unemployment cycled around an equilibrium of about two per cent of the workforce. Between 1974 and 1981 unemployment increased steadily to about 6.0 per cent. But that figure doesn’t accurately represent the number of Australians looking for work. According to Roy Morgan research the real number is closer to 10%. Others have it close to 38% when the “participation rate” is included as a factor. In addition, any person over 15 years-of-age who works more than one hour per week is now counted as being employed. In comparison, I guess things don’t look so bad in 2016. But there is a huge undercurrent of both the under and over employed. Millions of Australians are looking for more work hours, while millions more (mostly full-time employees) are forced to work up to 60 hours per week for 40 hours pay – all because it’s and employer’s market and employees are seen as disposable. Both groups are suffering from anxiety and stress and all the associated disorders. Personal happiness doesn’t seem to be a priority today.

Summary

Technological advancement and the perfection of robotics will inevitably see unemployment numbers increase dramatically. And that fact significantly concerns sociologists and academics. It is also of great concern to every parent of a child in today’s Australia. Their grandparents, the so-called “baby boomers” remember the “good old days” when women didn’t have to work if they chose, and they could plan a future based upon the security of work undertaken by the bread winner. Not any more it seems. And research shows that the consequences are dire. Without significant change to our economic paradigm our society will remain in decline. The system should be working for us, its people, not the other way around. The system simply isn’t working for its people, rather, against them. It has to change.

Geoff Mooney