The college president had the graduates move their tassel from the left to the right side of their mortarboard. “Congratulations, graduates of 2017!” And then, in the time-honored act of micro-rebellion, Sam, like many of the graduates, tossed her mortarboard into the air.
Sam had reason for optimism about her future. While she was only an average student, she had majored in social work, a growing field that can’t be offshored or automated. Plus, she had done an internship, where she did well and so was offered a job upon graduating.
Sam loved her job at Child Protective Services, training struggling parents and connecting them to resources. Plus, she had good job security: full-time job, benefits, and vacation.
When a new law passed mandating that all social workers have a master’s degree, even though the cost hurt, Sam did it, choosing a hybrid program: part in-person, part online so she didn’t always have to traipse to a campus after her tiring work day. Instead, when she felt like it, in her comfies and the comfort of her apartment, she could do the next lesson.
By Sam's 12th year as a social worker, the year 2029, her clients had become fatiguing—“They have so many issues!” But she was grateful for that stable, full-time, benefited job. Alas, that changed. Her boss informed the staff that despite increases in tax rates, revenues were down—companies and individuals weren't making as much money and so they paid less in taxes. And America’s ClintonCare (Chelsea was now president) providing Medicare for all, was very costly. So, all social workers' jobs would be reduced to 30 hours a week. When Sam asked, “Shouldn’t the social workers with the best evaluations get to work longer hours and the worse ones less?” she got only evasive answers.
In 2032, the noose was tightened further, much further. The boss explained that decreased tax revenues combined with technological advances meant that 1/3 of the social workers were to be laid off. Now, clients wore wearable webcams, which enabled social workers to do virtual home visits saving lots of social worker hours. Recordkeeping, suggestions to clients, and resource referrals were made more efficient through the use of artificial-intelligence software that both the social worker and clients had on their phones.
Sam was sure she wouldn’t be one who got laid off. Not only were her evaluations consistently good to excellent, she now had a lot of seniority. So whether the layoffs were to be on merit or seniority, she’d prevail. Except she didn’t. She was informed that there were too many female social workers—not reflective of the population—So only female social workers would be laid off.
Sam tried to find another social work job but was unable to. And that was despite using the latest job-search technologies, for example, a holographic dossier that she posted on LinkedIn, which provides a 3D sampler of her with clients and in staff meetings.
In recent years, the cost of living had declined. The large number of un- and underemployed people forced landlords to lower rents, supermarkets to lower prices, and even government to lower mass transit fares. So because Sam had saved—investing $100 a month in the currently highest yielding CD (That info is available on bankrate.com,)—she had at least a year before having to worry about becoming homeless.
But what sort of career could Sam transition into? She had majored in sociology, wasn’t technical, and was now 38. She had always found networking distasteful and wasn’t inordinately social, so she didn’t have much of a network to help her get a job that would pay decently despite being a newbie in the career.
The Clinton administration, aware of the lack of good jobs, initiated a PR campaign to get middle-income people to hire assistants. Chelsea urged people to join what she called, “The Assistance Army.” Hearing about that, Sam asked her limited network if they knew anyone who could use a personal assistant—After all, Sam’s years of helping struggling families gave her skills that could be useful even to a middle-class family.
That networking resulted in Sam getting hired for ten hours a week to help with the client's aging dad: visiting and Skyping with him, plus fighting with the National Health Service to get him needed treatments without life-threatening delay.
Of course, ten hours a week of personal assisting didn't pay enough to live on even though Sam now shared an apartment with a roommate and gave up her car, now relying on a low-incomer mass-transit pass. (Mass transit had become safe again thanks to the artificial-intelligence driven, racism-proof Virtual Police Officer that was now was on every bus and train car.)
Fortunately, Sam’s client referred her to others and so she soon had 30 hours a week of work. That still wasn’t quite enough to get by, so she enrolled in an online training program to be a social work informatics technician—the aforementioned social work software often needs customizing. Unlike back in 2017, when online courses tended to be boring and only modestly interactive, the 2030s versions are taught by transformational instructors teaching immersive, simulation-based lessons.
After completing that training, Sam was in-demand and was hired for 20 hours a week at good pay by the manufacturer of the leading social work software. She still liked the human element of being a personal assistant and so kept her favorite of her three clients.
Sam is now making a decent living and doesn’t regret the modest lifestyle she must now live: Buying clothes at thrift stores, eating out rarely, having to live with a roommate, and not having a car. But instead of finding satisfaction in materialism, she finds it in her work, relationships, and creative outlets.
Of course, this is conjectural. After all, it is a short-short story. But it reflects possible future realities. Does this story offer any practical implications for you or your children?