In 2011 unemployment in America peaked at an average of about 10 percent. In some states unemployment reached much higher levels and in some locations or for some local groups may have peaked in the 17-20 percent range. On the other hand in some regions there was only a small increase in unemployment beyond what it was prior to the beginning of the 2008 crash. Basically, many jobs were lost for many reasons, but job losses were not evenly distributed across the land.
Several points can be made to help us understand what was happening to employment. First, many firms were caught up in the credit crunch — the big banks were not lending. Those firms which could not borrow for the short term had to let substantial numbers of people go and use what resources remained to make sell their best products. They used in some cases a skeleton labor force to make money, which they then would plow back into making additional products while slowly rebuilding the business. Additional products that could be made by automating were higher priority.
In 2008 we were in the midst of globalizing. That didn’t change and jobs continued to move off shore. Many of those jobs have thus moved to China or India or elsewhere. They won’t be coming back. But they too will eventually give way to automation. Thus, many jobs have been directly replaced by automation and many have moved off shore during continued globalization, which can also be counted as if they were lost to automation.
Many new small and large firms have been created since 2008. Many of these are capital intensive or are one or two person small businesses. Some may employ 50 or more workers, but few employ thousands. In addition, infrastructure renewal has ground to a halt, as have most government activities that might be expected to employ large numbers of workers. An infrastructure bank that would begin activities that could create large numbers of jobs has been considered, but nothing has happened yet.
Thus, jobs are coming back but only very slowly, given many of the reasons noted above. To date unemployment has backed away from 2011 highs and is now approaching 6.6 percent. 2014 is a critical year when we may expect levels to fall to about those seen a year or two before the 2008 crash and by 2015-2016 we could move back to 2008 levels. However, we will have a very different workforce than we had in 2008.
Gone are the attractive high paying jobs that many possessing little education could nevertheless handle. Many people will be self-employed doing service jobs they’ve created and can handle with a smart phone and a killer ap or two. Low paying jobs that can be done without much formal education, but workers will find it more and more difficult to support a family on the strength of such jobs. Salaries in these jobs will likely remain low.
In general, those that are not well-educated must possess major practical skills and a good work ethic to make more than a marginal living in low skill jobs. College for some or effective practical skills training in accredited institutes or certification programs for others may be necessary for the longer term for most. Going to college or acquiring a critical practical skill is going to be a better idea than not going. In college it will be more important to take a career path that is in demand rather than going for something soft or no longer in demand. You can and should still should study history, the arts and humanities, but as we shall see students will be more and more geared toward preparing themselves to do something. Early on you need to ask those fundamental questions: What do I want to do? What do I want to be? You have to be able to answer these questions while you still have options in front of you.
Thus, we have a few major adjustments to make as we move through the last few years of recovery from the 2008 crash. We will have major differences in needs and options for jobs in 2016-2017 than we had in 2008. It will also be a different country. Unless we get healthier, solve the immigration crisis, and start having children again we’re going to experience population decline and accelerated aging as a nation. The costs of health care alone could bankrupt us. We can’t let that happen. In addition, infrastructure will need to be renewed in a major way including major protection of coastlines from rising ocean levels before the end of the century. We will also need to initiate an entirely new energy generating infrastructure using renewable, non-organic strategies, as well as a long term water conservation policy. Nearly all of these needs will create new programs and new jobs.