by Sarah Wayland
Women’s Employment Advocacy (.com)
As predicted in my video Q4 2019 Economic Challenge we are beginning to see the job growth slowing as of December 2019, according to NPR’s Scott Horsely in his article Women Now Outnumber Men On U.S. Payrolls dated January 10, 2020.
What I did not expect, though, was that over 50% of jobs are held by women. This is the second time in history we have experienced this and the last was during the Great Depression when “a wave of layoffs hit male workers first, temporarily giving women an edge in the workplace. The period was even dubbed the Mancession,” according to Horsely. However, that didn’t last as women’s jobs went next.
I hadn’t expected to see this phenomenon in my life time, but Horsely says that this unusual situation reflects the long evolution away from men-dominated industries like manufacturing and more toward the service side of the workforce, where women tend to excel.
Gig Work, or Freelancers, are also Affecting Employment Numbers
“The stereotype is a person performing one job for one employer. But that describes only about two-thirds of workers,” says Jonathan Rothwell* of the NY Times in his article Earning Income on the Side Is a Large and Growing Slice of American Life dated December 18, 2019.
His article details a few points that I find interesting when looking at the current employment landscape.
There is clearly a rise in self-employment and has been over the last four decades.
According to Rothwell*, when we are talking about self-employment statistics, the data depends on how the measurement is defined.
In 2017 according to the IRS, 17% of American workers filed returns indicating self-employment earned income. This is not measured as how much time they spent working for themselves or if it is their only form of employment, but just if they earned income.Jonathan Rothwell*, the NY Times (December 18, 2019)
Rothwell* says that this measurement is different than that of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), because the information used to collect that data tracks self-employment on what the individual spends the most time doing. Thus, BLS’s 10% self-employment number, compared to 17% from the IRS.
This leads us to the Forbes article titled Dire Predictions For The Job Market In 2020 by Jack Kelly. (I do not recommend reading this article unless you have a strong stomach.)
As the gig economy becomes mainstream, corporations will realize that there is little need to maintain expensive corporate offices, pay benefits and bear the burden of full-time permanent employees. Instead, companies can offer project work for people when they are needed. These contractors can work from home, won’t receive benefits and will save money for the corporations. Jack Kelly Senior Contributor, Forbes (December 16, 2019)
I’m not saying the sky is falling, I am pointing out that companies are looking to cut anywhere possible and when businesses with payroll have an average of more than 30% (Average Family Premiums Now Top $20,000, Employers Say – Society for Human Resources) of the salary going to benefits, not having to pay that theoretically can save hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars by outsourcing the work to freelancers who are paid on a 1099 as an independent contractor. This also saves on the other perks that are provided to attract talented employees.
I do not see entire corporate parks sitting empty with shrubbery growing up between the cracks never to be used again. I think companies who want to save money will use gig workers as they can, not across the board.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Here
This freaks me out if I go down the road of how am I going to work for another two decades when I could be replaced by a computer – the visual of me with a dirty face sitting in an orchard with torn gloves chomping on an apple that looks like it’s seen better days – so I decided to look into what it could really mean for those of us who work.
I found a great article in Fortune written August 1, 2019 titled Your Job Will Be Automated-Here’s How to Figure Out when A.I. Could Take Over by Gwen Moran
Moran points out, in brief, that lower-end jobs that have redundant tasks nearly 100% of the time are those that will be, most likely, replaced first. This, unfortunately, is also where many women find their work, according to Horsely.
While the prediction is that over time many jobs will change with AI, I found the following statement to be particularly poignant.
Chui and his team estimate that roughly six out of 10 jobs are made up of 30% or more tasks that can be automated. CEOs, financial advisors, insurance agents, and others all fall into this category. Michael Chui, Ph.D., a partner at McKinsey Global Institute (MGI)
The good news is that while perhaps 30% of any job is up for grabs Dr. Chui has isolated several main areas where AI could replace the worker – physical work, data processing and data automation. There are other areas in which automation is not such an easy task – such as unpredictable physical work, interactions with stakeholders, applying expertise and managing others.
Moran also points out that “automation develops and is adopted slowly, but comes on fast once it’s hit the mainstream.” Dr. Chui says that they “model it out as eight to 28 years.”
Barriers to automation include the high cost of new technology, even after it’s proven effective and a plan is in place. Here is a great example – replacing truck drivers with AI.
“People worry about two million truck drivers in the U.S.,” Chui says. Even if the technology was ready to deploy and there was a positive business case for them, he estimates it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to replace every truck in the U.S. That kind of cost is a big barrier. Gwen Moran, Fortune (August 1, 2019)
Dr. Chui also points out that there is resistance to change. While automating truck drivers may be a great idea, many people are not “comfortable with the thought of vehicles without drivers barreling down the road at 70 miles per hour,” says Dr. Chui.
Now I feel even better about my job probably not being automated any time soon.
The last thing that Dr. Chui recommends is to look for partial automation, where many AI intrusions will most likely start.
This brings me back around to where we started at the top. There is certainly contradicting information in the news about how strong or weak our economy is remaining or becoming. What I find is that touting unemployment statistics and construction growth isn’t enough to really see the big picture any longer. People are supplementing their incomes either out of desire (48%, according to Rothwell*), or out of necessity, indicating the widening inequities.
I already see that a phone app has replaced some of the repetitive tasks in my favorite hotel and that sometimes I find an automated bot standing where I had never seen one before to helpfully answer my questions.
My belief is that for a variety of reasons the job market will continue to remain tight:
Because as society ages and is living longer so stays employed longer, this edges out other job seekers; and as the financial burden of baby boomers and retirees on the younger generations increase they will probably have to pay more and will, therefore, inevitably earn less, according to Kelly.
Paired with the fact that income is ever falling behind the growth of necessities, driving some to use gig work in addition to their regular employment, according to Rothwell*.
Because while women dominated jobs are growing faster than traditionally men dominated positions, many of those are service-based at the lower-end of the job market according to Rothwell*, and; therefore, are more susceptible to the possibility of being replaced by technology, according to Morgan.
Staying aware of what’s happening in the workforce and keeping a pulse on the job market is a must for those of us who wish to flow with the changes and the opportunities that are guaranteed to come.
*Jonathan Rothwell is the author of “A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society,” recently published by Princeton University Press. He is the Principal Economist at Gallup, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a visiting scholar at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy. You can follow him on Twitter at @jtrothwell, and listen to his podcast, “Out of the Echo Chamber.”
The 2019 Gallup Great Jobs Survey was funded by The Lumina Foundation, the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network. Data are available on the Gallup website. Results are based on mail surveys conducted Feb. 8 to April 1, 2019, with a random sample of 9,671 adults 18 and older in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.