Underemployment: The Incredible Shrinking Triangle

It’s not a sandwich after all, it’s a triangle rapidly shrinking on all sides! Thomas Friedman’s essay in today’s New York Times describes yet another angle on underemployment in the United States, this time from the point of view of a small manufacturer that needs more highly skilled welders than are readily available in the population. The short of it: we have massive numbers of unemployed, but the few jobs that remain require ever-higher levesl of technical know-how. They are STEM jobs in search of highly educated, certified unemployed, which happens to be another form of unobtainium. The triangle? Simple. On one edge you have machines and automation. The gap between what machines can do and how much they cost, and what humans can do is rapidly closing for lower-skilled positions. So the total number of low-skilled positions is dropping fast. Along the second edge you have productivity. Companies have gone through recession, and figured out that they can actually make healthy profits (which they are again making now) without all those pesky employees. Productivity and efficiency is up, pulling employment numbers further down. Along the third and final edge comes Friedman’s newest essay- as new jobs slots are born, they are reserved primarily for the niche where offshoring hasn’t (yet) supplied a real alternative: specialty, high-skill needs. As the education level required for these few openings continues to bubble higher, ever greater numbers of unemployed find that they do not qualify, and in fact are ever further from qualifying for a second try.  Welcome to the new geometry.



One thought on “Underemployment: The Incredible Shrinking Triangle

  1. Pingback: Chronic Underemployment Goes Mainstream! | robotfuturesbook

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