Unemployment, under-employment and poverty

The Caribbean Camera apologises for bringing you more confirmation that labour markets will go from bad to worse in less than one generation.

As bad as things are for the unemployed and under-employed at present, the situation will become even worse for them and will also extend its negative effects to persons who feel that they are now gainfully and securely employed.

That doom and gloom analysis is now receiving more attention worldwide as a result of the wider circulation of the contents of a report entitled The Future of Employment which was  published by the University of Oxford in September 2013. According to this report, about 47% of the total number of jobs in the U.S. in 2013 was at risk of being eliminated by computerization in the subsequent 20 years or sooner.

The negative trend identified in that document has also been commented on by Canadian institutions such as the Conference Board of Canada. With specific reference to the impact of autonomous vehicles (AV’s or driverless vehicles), the board has said 560,000 professional drivers in our country will be out of work by 2030.

In extending our attention to the wider implications of that trend, we are forced to broaden our definition of poverty and to remind one and all of the many ways in which unemployment and under-employment are forms of poverty.

The lack of wages and of income that matches one’s skills and level of training is more than a matter of money. It causes the absence of a sense of purpose and usefulness as a person. It includes the denial of one of the main ingredients for good mental health and for harmonious and meaningful family relationships. The chronic insecurity over our present and our future is therefore automatic and self-sustaining.

And given that that trend is in itself bad news, there is an additional complication. For a number of reasons beyond the need for money and personnel to prepare our people, our physical infrastructure and our economic structures for the future, one analyst described our situation with an exquisite metaphor of hopelessness: “The future is racing towards us, and no one is driving.”

That was not what was predicted in the decades prior to the 1970’s. In those earlier times, it was expected that technological advancement would not be what we now call disruptive technology (DT, which significantly reduces jobs). It was thought that technological advancement would lead to more leisure time and a better quality of life.

It is now known that where there were benefits derived from technology, those benefits were not equitably shared and the income gap between higher earners and lower earners continues to grow wider and wider.

In that context, it is appropriate to congratulate Toronto Mayor John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne for their poverty reduction measures and to plead with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to follow their example of caring governance, rather than to continue implementing the inhumane and insane principle of deficit reduction at the expense of those citizens and residents most in need.

While our politicians and public servants at all three levels of government, our businesspersons, our academics and those persons engaged in our not-for-profit community are urged to take a holistic approach to preparing for the future, it is urgent that we continue and intensify our poverty reduction measures in the already painful present.