The other day I overheard my two grown sons discussing, of all things, politics! It turns out that it wasn’t the nuances of whether California is essentially a Red state with three pockets of blue swinging issues, although my wife has convinced me that this is true. It had more to do with the prominent political issue off interest to us all…employment. In particular a bill moving through our Congress that would extend unemployment payments.
Now I am greatly aware of how the unemployment issue has affected us during the last few years. My older son lost his job and it was four months before he found another. And it was at a greatly reduced salary with commissions hedging the employer’s bets on cost. I do some consulting with a Health Plan and even though business is growing, my department was downsized from six to me. I belong to three social networks of small size and all have at least two members unemployed. So the problem is a reality.
What I notice though is the insidious effect of technology on productivity and the workforce. When they put scanners at checkout lines in stores as diverse as supermarkets and home improvement many sales staff found themselves redundant. When the public became accustomed to being involved in the research process at warehouses and IVR customer service, more employees were “on the street”. Even my beloved U.S. Navy built a ship with the firepower of a battleship and a crew of less than 200. Retirement benefits cost more than drones.
So, what’s the point? My sons’ conclusion was that extending unemployment is only an incentive to try to find comparable pay and benefits to the job someone lost. Bad idea! A better solution, although it is a long-term fix, is to target the money to projects that boost consumption and an appetite for the goods technology allows us to make with fewer people. That’s eventually what worked us through the Great Depression. That and World War II.
Are we on the right track?