If we can’t create enough jobs, we’ve got to reduce the number of people in the labor market at any given time!
How might we do this? To start with, we could redefine “full time employment.” Maybe a typical work week should be reduced from 37-1/2 or 40 hours per week to 20 or 25 so that two people shared a single position. The big negative is that compensation would have to be reduced as well. But instead of some of us working full time and partially supporting those unemployed or in receipt of public assistance, more of us would be employed so there would be reduced costs of unemployment insurance and public dependency. Another possible negative would be the trickle-down effects. With reduced compensation, we would live in smaller, more affordable houses. But as newer neighborhoods were built, instead of super-size homes where 10-20% of them were vacant or in foreclosure, most would be occupied by folks who could afford to buy and maintain them. Would you rather live in a neighborhood with supersize homes but declining values due to distress sales or one with smaller but well-kept owner-occupied homes? Your choice. We might drive more affordable cars, or keep the ones we owned even longer. We might try to get by with one family car and share rides, none of which are bad choices. We might spend more time cooking nutritious meals at home instead of eating fast food, which is also not a bad idea. We might even engage in more quality time with family.
Alternatively, we could mandate one-year sabbaticals after each four years of employment. This would reduce the number of workers in the labor force by 20% at any given time. How one would live during the year off is up to conjecture. If you're a conservative, maybe the answer is that everyone would have to save enough during the working years to be able to survive the year off. If you're a liberal, maybe unemployment insurance would be available during the year off with salaries reduced during the working years to cover the cost of salary and medical benefits paid during the non-working year. During the year off, people could either work on home projects, pursue additional education or travel, as they chose. This could result in a better prepared and more focused workforce. Young people would be able to travel while they were still young enough to enjoy it and make a difference in the world instead of having to wait until they had money, by which time they were too old to enjoy the experience. It would give a much-needed boost to our travel and recreation industry and possibly improve our relationships with other countries and cultures.
A recent television news feature described in-depth personality pre-employment tests that have recently come back into vogue. I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's 1952 book, "Player Piano," which today would probably be named “Technology Gone Wild.” All workers underwent a battery of tests and the government maintained a database of workers’ credentials. If your ID card didn’t carry the proper credential you could not be hired, and there were penalties for gaming the system. Special arrangements were in place for people who did not qualify for any job. Employers like to think that they always hire the best person for a position but that is simply not true. Instead, if they are lucky, they hire the best person available at the time that the opening needs to be filled. When we have so many well-qualified, highly skilled, experienced workers available right now, what is the point of subjecting these individuals to such a test? What if the test shows that they would have been better suited to an entirely different career? Do we ignore decades of successful experience in the occupation for which the individual is now applying? Why should anyone care if an accountant's responses parallel those of a poet rather than the accountant that he is? Maybe instead of expending the effort to set in place hurdles that potential workers must surmount, we should put more effort into figuring out how to best utilize whatever employment resources that we still have before those resources are gone too.
Our career options and life expectations have changed and will continue to change. We need to figure out how to improve the quality of life for all of us, given these changes.