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We're not paying attention

Jack Balshaw 7/2/2003


I can't help but think that the current softness in our economy is related to an overall loss of jobs. Every month for over two years there have been fewer jobs in the U.S. than there were the month before. The numbers for job losses are actually worse than they appear to be. We're not only losing a percentage of jobs from our basic population but we're losing ALL the jobs that would normally be associated with our ever increasing population.

Our continued purchasing of goods from overseas has the net effect of gradually decreasing the number of jobs needed here to provide employment for our population. The monthly numbers may seem relatively small but they continue to add up.

It reminds me of the advice about how to cook a frog. You don't drop it into a pot of hot water because it'll just jump out. You put it in a pot of tepid water and slowly increase the heat. Supposedly, the frog doesn't notice the water getting hotter and hotter until it's too late and it's cooked. Is this what's happening to our employment base?

How many pieces of clothing made or assembled in Bangladesh or Mexico does it take to cost one American job? How many cell phones made in China does it take to cost another American job? You get the idea. While we individually may not purchase enough foreign goods to cost a single American a job, collectively, that's just what we're doing.

And when that American without a job can no longer shop at a local store or purchase a local meal or service, the ripple effect of these lost jobs will be much more evident. Is our "jobless economic recovery" a ticking time bomb? While it isn't our individual responsibility to worry about this or to take any action, we should be aware that things just aren't going right. It would be nice, however, to feel someone in government was paying attention.

On a related note, Will Rogers (a humorist and common philosopher in the 1930's) wrote, "Machines are a great thing, but if one replaces a hundred men, it don't buy anything, it don't eat anything, while the hundred men spend for food, shelter and hundreds of various commodities for their families." We should perhaps remember that our continual replacement of workers by computers and automated machines is also eroding the number of jobs in this country.

The reported increases in productivity made in the last decade isn't just that workers are producing more goods in less time and for less cost, BUT that machines (and computers) are producing more goods in less time for less costs without the need for nearly as many people to run them. This might seem to be a good thing and it probably is to a limited extent.

As long as the outcome is higher wages for more productive workers and lower costs for consumers, it's a wonderful result. But when it reaches the stage of reduced employment and lower wages because less workers with less skills are needed, and costs are increased for consumers because of the recent trend for companies to charge, "what the traffic will bare", it might not seem so good.

Our short personal time horizons, like the frog's insensitivity to small, incremental temperature changes, causes us not to notice slowly evolving, long term changes in basic quality of life factors. It would be well if we would sometimes turn off the TV and sit back in our chair and just think about things. In this instance, the impact on our society and especially on us individually, of long term employment (unemployment) directions.

A six, seven or ten percent unemployment rate might not seem too high to you. The increasing time it's taking unemployed workers to find a new job might seem irrelevant to you. But, if too many people are unemployed for too long perhaps your employer's lack of business might cause him to lay off someone. Would it matter to you if that someone were you?


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