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Deconstructing the jobs report

The latest jobs report showed that the US economy added 173,000 jobs, bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.1%.

Sounds great, right?

You know by now that much of my reporting reflects the adage that the quality of the question drives the quality of the answer. Asking how many jobs were added is a fair question, but I don’t think it’s a very good one.

Much smarter would be: Of the jobs we’ve added, what kind of jobs were they, what kinds of skills were required, how stable do they appear to be, and will they allow the workers to live a decent life that includes supporting a family, building a nest egg and perhaps even buying a house?

But for those of us over 50, why should we care about the jobs report, anyway?  By now we have (or have had) our careers, have 401ks and/or pensions, equity in our homes, healthy savings and Social Security to fall back on.

Or do we?

This is why I care about the jobs report, and so should you:

  1. Most people in their 50s and 60s don’t have the financial resources to maintain their standard of living into their 70s and beyond.  Pensions may not last forever.  Not to mention Social Security.  And those who’ve waited to fund their retirement don’t have enough time to save their way to security even if they begin aggressively saving today. They will need to be qualified and employable for years to come, because they won’t be able to quit working at 65 or even 70.
  2. Our educational system isn’t keeping up with the demands of the marketplace.  No longer do college students graduate, move right into a career, and stay put. The shelf life of expertise and skills is decreasing. That means not just getting a college degree but committing to active lifelong learning just to stay current.  It also means that older workers will have to learn a host of additional skills to stay relevant in the work world.
  3. Technologies and globalization continue to erode a significant number of job types, from technical to middle management.  Are the 173,000 new jobs mostly low-level service positions, the kind that pay minimum wage (or close to it) and come with no benefits, or are they the kinds of jobs that require a college degree or technical training—and pay higher salaries and provide perks like 401k matches and health insurance?
  4. As a futurist, I know that the future world of work may look as different from today’s employment landscape as the Industrial Revolution did from the agrarian period.  Of my seven grandchildren, I would be willing to bet that at least four will never have a traditional job.  They will have good educations, great careers, solid incomes and comfortable lives.  But they won’t have jobs. They will be operating in a world in which freelancing, entrepreneurship and self-employment will be the new standard. I want them to understand more about that workplace reality now, so that they can always stay ahead of the employment curve.
  5. If more and more people over 50 will want to work longer, perhaps indefinitely, we will have to find ways to (1) match our working preferences with work realities and (2) match skill and expertise requirements with what we have to offer.  We cannot NEVER want to work for a boss again and avoid the risk that comes with self-employment.  If we want to work past traditional retirement age, we can’t coast AND keep current with 1 and 2.  Eventually, the old professional network, skill sets and edge will peter out, and when that happens, your options dwindle.

So much of the quality of our lives after 50 revolves around the ability to finance that quality. This means keeping your eye on employment trends, inside your field and out.  And yes, it also means you must keep asking all the right questions.

2 responses to “Deconstructing the jobs report”

  1. Mary Laxague says:

    George,

    I found this piece to be very provocative and right on target. Living in the S. F. Bay Area and its high cost of living, I am aware of the many who work less than full time and companies taking advantage of part time employment to avoid benefits, etc.

    I also appreciated your laying out the five points of which we must be aware as we move forward and lives after 50 are impacted. You give much food for thought. Thank you.

    • George Schofield says:

      So often our information-saturated selves don’t go to the next stage of questioning and understanding. Thanks, Mary, for doing that. George

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