The “Jobs of the Future” Won’t Help the 42% of Americans Making Under $15/Hour

Both neoliberal and conservative politicians love to assert that with enough education and training, the math-heavy jobs of the future will save the economy and permit Americans to live in the American dream.

Quick newsflash for them: 42% of all workers in the United States make less than $15 an hour, and most of those are in the service sector. There might just possibly be an argument that with enough advanced training a few of the workers increasingly displaced by automation, flattening and globalization might be able to cling the mast of the sinking ship just a little while longer. But there’s no way that coding apps and designing templates for 3D printers is going to make any sort of dent in the lives of the 42% of Americans making below living wages in the service sector.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not highly skilled jobs that are most protected from automation, either: programmers and lawyers alike are all threatened by the trend. Rather, the most protected jobs are the ones that require the most personal touch, like in-home nursing care. Those are the jobs society truly needs most, but they’re also the ones that tend to pay the least.

The free market alone isn’t going to solve this problem. Fixing the obvious imbalance requires government to intervene and redistribute to keep life even remotely fair.

Conservatives can whinge and grind their teeth all they want. But given the trends, the only alternative to government intervention on behalf of economic fairness is far messier, far less pleasant, and far more dangerous to those who receive the surfeit of financial rewards in the modern economy.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.