By 2016, most observers will at least strongly suspect that the jobs crisis is permanent. Many Republicans will think that the few measures advocated by Mitt Romney in 2012 and not supported by Democrats, such as lower tax rates for those in the highest brackets, might help the crisis, but fewer will honestly expect any small or moderate change to clearly solve the problem. One issue becoming plain, if hard to accept for many, will be that the United States is not unique for either business climate or standard of living. Before the Winning by Default years ended in 1973, it was, but since, though the strongest militarily and still the most influential, the United States has become just one of a growing set of 30, 40, or more prosperous, free, generally Western countries. Many Americans will still consider their country the best, but ever fewer with overseas experience will consider it superior by a wide margin. The economy, meanwhile, will continue on the same pace, not in recession but, due to the realities of Work’s New Age, seeming that way. The competitive sector, called “Economy I” by author and New York Times columnist David Brooks, will continue responding to competition and improving productivity while cutting jobs, while noncompetitive fields such as health care and government functions, Brooks’s “Economy II,” will provide a growing share of work.
Politically, the country will be ready for a change. A charismatic Republican, possibly Marco Rubio, rates to be elected in 2016, and will be more able than Barack Obama was to push through legislation designed to help the nation’s largest problems, namely still-rising health care costs, a deficit well over $20 trillion, and, whatever the official employment rate, vast numbers of Americans without jobs who would work if it were readily available, as measured by an AJSN of 25 to 30 million. The new laws and policies will help, but not enough to solve the job problem, which even more commentators will now realize is stable. A national discussion will pick up speed and get serious in the late 2010’s, with debate on options such as guaranteed income and officially reduced work hours. With health care costs continuing to rise, compounded by the massive increase of new enrollees from Obamacare, there may be serious calls for increased personal responsibility about health, a factor in, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011 study, as much as 75% of health care expenditures.
One set of issues that may see some resolution in the late 2010s and early 2020s is the status of women in the workplace. Despite laws guaranteeing equal rights for both sexes, results have not been equal, especially in average pay. Though authors such as Warren Farrell have documented that occupational choices explain most of the disparity, and others have noted that it disappears or is even reversed when factors such as education and presence or absence of small children are controlled for, it remains a political issue, and one where almost all commentary is in one direction, that of alleged anti-female discrimination. That may change. A landmark 2012 Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” put forth the idea that women are inherently more involved in child-raising and therefore, as long as high-level jobs have family-unfriendly requirements such as extensive travel and very long hours, will not reach the same average workplace success as men. Slaughter called for industry-wide changes in these obligations, which may happen. There may also be calls for affirmative action of sorts, mandating higher pay for women until their average income is the same – that is not likely to be passed into law, but will influence public policy to the point where related things may occur.
Also more discussed will be the status of the Singularity, a possible upcoming event which author and futurist Ray Kurzweil summarized as “extending our intelligence by reverse engineering it, modeling it, simulating it, reinstantiating it on more capable substrates, and modifying and extending it,” and managing to “transcend all of the limitations of our biology” by merging our minds and bodies with computers. Kurzweil projected that by the late 2020s products would be so cheap to produce that their value would be contained almost exclusively in their information, and with the economic power of genetic, nanotechnological, and robotic technologies, the American underclasses would “largely disappear” between 2024 and 2034. By the early 2030s, per Kurzweil, there will be little difference between “human and machines, between real and virtual reality, or between work and play.” By the late 2010s, this possibility and the status of its progress will be better understood, and the richness of its philosophical issues will provide a colossal area for national discourse.
When could possible inventions be in use? A New York Times 2011 reader survey started with predictions from a team of futurists and asked the readers to move their expected implementation times forward or backward. Events and dates projected included a universal medical database by 2019, personalized genetic-based cures for cancer by 2023, practical driverless cars by 2024, designed and manufactured life-forms by 2026, and recording devices to routinely capture both video and audio of people’s entire lives by 2031.
Another trend that will continue is aging. By 2030, the average age of Americans projects to be as high as 2004’s average age of Floridians, and there will be 35.5 Americans aged 65 or older for each 100 20 to 64, an increase of 67% from 2010. With people living ever longer, aging will have huge effects on jobs, on both the supply and demand sides.
In all, there will be many differences in the work world over the next 18 years. How can we fashion knowledge about the trends we have now and will have soon into influences affecting jobs? That is the challenge.