A Changing World Of Work: Why Unemployment Is Not Even Higher


In March, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 14.3 percent.  It had more than doubled to 31.9 percent by April.  The rate for Latinos was 18.9 percent, while African Americans at 16.7 percent have wiped out all the gains they made since the 2008 recession.  The pandemic has cost 20 million jobs and the overall April unemployment rate of 14.7 percent is the highest since the great depression (Labor Department Jobs Report last week).

Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, has called this sharp downturn, “without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since the Second World War.”  The most severely affected are those at the lowest level service jobs as in hospitality and retail.  Forty percent of U.S. households earning less than $40,000 lost a job or more in March.  It has had a devastating impact on people, causing “a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future.”  The Fed chairman was presenting prepared remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington.

In addition to the $2 trillion already dispersed, House Democrats unveiled a new $3 trillion package earlier in May.  It was indirectly supported by the Fed chairman who called for a fiscal rescue package to prevent business failures and further job losses, which could continue to trammel our economic future even after the pandemic.  However, the bill to be voted on at week’s end is without Republican support in the House and appears unlikely to pass in the Republican controlled Senate.  Surely the two sides can produce a compromise when the country desperately needs the lawmakers’ help.

That the world of work is changing is beyond dispute.  If you do not like mowing your lawn and find lawn services too expensive, Honda has the answer.  It’s Miimo HRM40 is a robotic lawn-mower for backyards up to 4,000 square feet.  It will map the area and develop an efficient plan, and you can schedule it to mow quietly at your convenience.  There is also an Alexa app to help it adapt its plans to the weather forecast.

At least one way factories have changed (since I first started work as a newly minted engineer) is in the absence of workers on the shop floor; not so many now, rather very few to be more accurate.  Robots and automated production lines have taken their place requiring only a few to monitor the machines. 

With all the changes, it has become difficult to actually figure out a modern worker’s output.  Not to worry, the guy monitoring a production line or ensuring a windshield on a car is fitted just right may not appear to be doing much except his absence might mean higher warranty bills.  The person sitting at a computer screen and gazing into space might look to be day-dreaming on the company’s time although his/her next innovation might propel the company in ways not yet imagined.  These people also do not have to work from an office.  They can just as easily work from home, and it is why in this moribund economy with everything shut down, the unemployment rate is not even higher — bad enough as it may be. 

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.