The changing nature of work

Date posted: November 18, 2013

A reported 6 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are both not working and not in school. In other words, they are idle.  Does it say anything about job-market changes? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“It used to be that if you were a healthy person and young, you could get a job. In fact, I know my dad, who as you know did not finish high school, came back from World War II, didn’t really have a marketable skill, but he was able to get work. And he continued for about 40 years working. And your first job maybe wouldn’t pay very much, but it would be a stepping stone.

“Today, it’s really difficult to do that, because the nature work has really changed. For example, many entry-level jobs that don’t require a lot of skill — the kind of jobs that, for example, my dad could qualify for when he was very young — they’ve been taken over by machines and by technology. And that trend will probably accelerate.

“Really, even to get your foot in the job door today, mostly you need to have some marketable skill. And often … this means you have to have training beyond high school. Also, employers are now much more picky about the background characteristics of the workers that they hire, how hard a worker they are and whether they’ve been in trouble in the past.

“So, these are all reasons I think why, unfortunately, economists are rather pessimistic about the ability of our economy to generate enough jobs for us to push that unemployment rate down to 5 percent, which has long been the goal that we have set as a standard.”

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