Monday, December 6, 2010

Where Have the Good Jobs Gone?

A recent comment on a CNN Money article asked about the fact that millions of jobs have been lost in this recession and might be gone for good. These jobs are an outward signal that our economy is fundamentally changing. The contraction we are experiencing, is not a typical dip in the road. It is a fundamentally different road than one we have driven down before. In the longer term perspective, this is not unusual. It only feels usual because it has not happened in our lifetimes. But ask any octogenarian and they will tell you about a time when life in American was very different. The Great Depression is called that for a good reason. Daily life was different back then. It was slower, more local, and closer to the bone. People were focused on the basics. Food, water, clothing, shelter, and community.

Over the next decade the kind of job creation we can expect, will be in areas which have not seen growth in decades. As our economy shifts from a global consumerist one, to a much more local community focus, we will see a complex network of local economics re-emerge. I expect to see entire industries flourish based on a relocalization of many of our most basic needs.

Decentralization of the Energy Grid
The current emphasis on renewable energy will grow as more and more as home owners, businesses, local, state, and federal government buildings, military bases, and schools install power generation systems. This is a very good thing for jobs, for grid efficiency, and even for national security. The design, installation, monitoring, and maintenance of these systems will generate millions of jobs

Growing Local Farms
As I write, less than 2% of all Americans grow the food grown in this country. As the cost to transport food from the other side of the planet increases, it will become an economic requirement to grow more of our food in our own soil. Farmers will become our new "rock stars" transforming vacant lots, abandoned suburbs, big box parking lots and city parks and open spaces into productive agricultural farms. America will once again become an agricultural nation where many of us will spent at least some part of our work hours planting, weeding, harvesting, and selling food to one another. We will re-learn the challenges and the delights of growing more of our food close to where we live.

Made in America
America was built on the strength of our manufacturing. But almost all of it has been sent overseas. As the price of oil returns to triple-digit prices we will see a manufacturing renaissance in America. The cost of moving raw materials and finished products around the world will no longer make economic sense. But instead of the containers filled with plastic trinkets we will shift our attention to making the things people need. The consumptive consumerist lifestyle may have seen its last hurrah with the bursting of the housing bubble and the disappearance of trillions of dollars of our savings, home equity, and retirement accounts. Many of us can no longer afford to buy all the "stuff" we had been convinced we needed. 

Second Hand Renaissance
I am convinced that much of the manufacturing jobs will not involve new materials. Out of necessity we are seeing a meteoric rise in industries that reuse, recycle, repair, and refinish things. From clothing, to furniture, building materials, and car parts in almost every town the skills needed to re-build and repair broken or work out items will once again become a popular and necessary.

I close with a quote from Jim Howard Kuntsler,
If you want something like gainful employment in the years ahead, don't rely on the corporations, the government, or anyone with a work station equipped cubicle. Start reading up on gardening and harness repair. Learn how to fix a pair of shoes. Volunteer for EMT duty if you're already out of a paycheck, and learn how to comfort people in medical distress. Jobs of the future will be hands-on and direct. I have no idea what medium of exchange you'll get paid with, but a chicken is a good start.
 Have a great day and go out and learn a new skill. It will be well worth your time.

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