Should you be more or less demanding at work? Work for a for-profit, non-profit, or government? Get more training? Try to climb the ladder? Become self-employed?
Of course, such decisions must be based largely on who you are: Your risk-tolerance, your ability, your values. And emotions play a role.
But a clear-eyed look at today's and tomorrow's world of work may help you make a wise decision.
To that end, here is a debate between an optimist and a pessimist about the present and future of work.
Optimist: Of course, technology eliminates jobs but they've always been replaced by more jobs, including many we can't even envision yet.
Pessimist: This time it's different. So many of today's products are software. After it's developed, unlimited copies can be made with virtually no employees.
Optimist: That's exactly what they've always said. For example, when the printing press was invented, they said it would elimiinate scribe jobs. It did but it created millions of jobs in publishing and advertising. When the car was invented, they worried about the jobs lost in carriage manufacture, blacksmithing, and horseshoeing. But the invention of the automobile spawned millions of jobs in building cars, roads, repairing, etc.
Pessimist: Perhaps the biggest reason to be pessimistic about the future of U.S. jobs is that the cost of hiring an American, already among the world's highest, is skyrocketing because of increasing costs of Workers Compensation, Family Leave Act, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, and employee lawsuits. And now there's ObamaCare with Paid Family Leave up next. With few exceptions, U.S. workers are not-competitive in the global labor market.
Optimist: Of course, some jobs will continue to go overseas. But even with the cost-savings of offshore labor, much work will continue to be done here. Even many technology companies are choosing to hire mainly U.S. workers. In fact, many corporations that used to offshore are finding that quality and cultural differences outweigh the cost saving.
Pessimist: True, but net, ever fewer U.S. workers will be needed. With VideoSkype free, meetings can held online even if the attendees are far-flung. Even worse for U.S competitiveness, any job whose work product can be sent over the Net is much more cheaply done offshore.
Optimist: As the global economy continues to grow, the cost difference will shrink. For years, Japanese wages have crept up toward U.S. levels. Now, the same is happening in China. And as the world's workers get more aware of how the U.S. government is mandating worker benefits, they will fight for similar benefits.
Pessimist: We'll all be dead before worldwide labor costs approach the U.S.'s. The average purchasing-power-adjusted salary in India is $5,350 And remember, 20% of people in developing nations live on $1 a day. How soon do you think it will be that those workers make anywhere near what U.S. workers make, plus all the benefits?
Optimist: Of course, many lower-level jobs will be done offshore. But U.S. companies' ability to draw their talent worldwide will enable them to start and grow businesses far faster than in a non-global economy. That will create many jobs in the United States.
Pessimist; We're not just talking about low-level jobs. Much legal discovery work is now done by attorneys in Asia. Same with accounting work, radiology image interpretation, website development, database and system administration.
Optimist: If you cherry-pick, so can I. Technician work, from auto mechanic to microwave tower technician aren't getting offshored. Nor is baker or bartender, doctor or dentist, fire fighter or fitness trainer, psychologist or police officer, roofer or real estate agent, umpire, veterinarian, or waiter. Plus, much cutting-edge work is done in the U.S.: Advanced manufacturing like 3D printing, research and development of the latest drugs and medical devices, and next-generation interactive online education and training. America has long been known for innovation. And because, not withstanding our deficit, we have a higher GDP and a more stable government than do most countries, America is likely to remain a most competitive spawning ground for new jobs.
Pessimist: Yeah, China's a piker. Its population, four times as large at the U.S's, is disproportionately fiilled with engineers and scientists, And China's culture prizes hard work. And although I don't like it, Chinese companies seem more likely to cut corners regarding the environment, worker protections, patent protection, even contract enforcement, which makes China a formidable competitor and thus takes away many would-be U.S. jobs. And China's government is a full partner with Chinese companies: manipulating their currency to make Chinese products cheaper and, more frightening, have invaded the U.S. government's computer system and stolen information on 20 milllion Americans. That's a heck of business partner for Chinese firms..
Optimist: In our world, communication is ever more open. It's projected that by 2020, 90% of the world's population will have access to a cell phone, and in turn, the information of the Internet. So the excesses of bad actors will become ever more known.That will pressure such countries to conform to the U.S's more honorable business standards.
Pessimist: Again, we'll be dead by the time all that happens. Besides, you're ignoring automation. Millions of jobs are getting roboticized: from auto welding to baristas, bartenders, and waiters--Been to an Applebys or Chili's lately? Just think of how many millions of jobs have already been lost by ATMs, and automated supermarket checkout. How many hotel jobs have been lost because of AirBnB? How many cab driver jobs because of Uber and Lyft? Employers already see that many more people want work than there are good jobs, so here we are, already in The Gig Economy.
Optimist: That's all theory. The government just reported that the unemployment rate is down to 5.3%, with the U.S.having created 220,000 jobs in June alone.
Pessimist; I'm glad you trust the government. The unemployment rate considers someone who was making $100,000 who now makes $10 an hour part-time as the same: "employed." Also, the unemployment rate doesn't count people who have given up looking for work.
Optimist: Sometimes, people give up looking for work because their spouse is making a good income and they can afford to stay home.
Pessimist: Do you really think that, net, it's a good thing to when more people have stopped looking for work? The Labor Participation Rate---the percentage of people 16-64 who are working is just 62.6%, the lowest in 38 years. That means that 93.6 million Americans of working age are not in the labor force.
Optimist: Some of that is because ever more people are attending college. In addition, you can't just aggregate everyone together. The people who are well-trained and well-motivated are still doing well. Those who are poorly trained and motivated are the bulk of the people who aren't in the workforce. That's simply an argument for better educating and training more people.
Pessimist: Already, the U.S. spends #1 in the world per capita on education yet ranks 20-somethingth in achievement. In addition, the U.S. has spent fortunes on job training, yet a 2014 review of their effectiveness is titled, "Job Training Programs May Be More Popular Than Effective."
Optimist: What, you want to give up on people? Tremendous effort is being made to improve education and training. For example, last year, the government published a review of hundreds of the nation's job training programs to identify best practices. In the end, I'm betting on America. For almost 240 years now, the U.S. has found a way to stay among the world's most successful economies, with employment opportunities that have been the envy of the world. And even today, milllions of people fight--even break the law--to come to the U.S. You can bet against America. I won't.
Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.