As Labor Day Passes, the Terrifying Future of the American Worker


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This Boston Globe article got me really thinking:

As more employers rely on a so-called contingent workforce of freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees, more workers are left without company-subsidized health care, retirement plans, and other traditional benefits. Technology makes it easier for consumers to find restaurants, track daily exercise, and stay in touch with friends, but it has also increased the power of employers to monitor, schedule, and contact workers at all hours.

Companies fighting to deliver the next big thing and stay ahead of competitors are also creating a cutthroat workplace culture. At the online retailer Amazon.com Inc., the New York Times recently reported, workers cry at their desks and anonymously criticize each other to management using a special feedback tool, and e-mails not immediately answered at 3 a.m. are followed by text messages.

Even some of the so-called perks companies are introducing are less beneficial than they sound. The trend of offering unlimited vacation days, for instance, saves companies money because they don’t have to pay unused time when employees leave — and many workers don’t take off additional days anyway.

Throw in the decline of unions, global competition for jobs, stagnating wages, and eroding retirement benefits, and the average worker faces a far less stable outlook than in the days when someone could get hired by a company and stay there — clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5, getting regular raises and promotions, and collecting a nice pension on the way out the door.

“We’re living in an era of real uncertainty and dislocation when it comes to the world of work,” said Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School professor who studies labor issues. “It’s a moment where we need to think carefully and reevaluate the policies we have governing the labor market.”

And that’s not all:

Mobile phones tether people to the office, eroding the wall between work and private lives and forecasting a 24/7 work week. Scheduling software calculates how many workers are needed at certain times and alerts managers when business is slow so they can send people home early. That has prompted employers to suddenly alter shifts with little notice to workers.

Machines that can build cars, take customers’ orders, and do taxes are taking over many tasks once performed by humans. By 2025, automation will displace 22.7 million jobs, according to Forrester Research, a Cambridge research and advisory firm.

And it’s not just factory workers and cashiers getting pushed out by machines. The reams of digital information transmitted through online clicks and social media posts will need to be analyzed and put to use, which would suggest plenty of jobs for smart, tech-savvy people, said Robert Tercek, author of the new book “Vaporized,” about how digital information is transforming the economy. But that work will be done by computers, not humans.

It’s a grim picture. No workplace protections, less and less jobs, less freedom from the boss- it’s a dark future.

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One Response to “As Labor Day Passes, the Terrifying Future of the American Worker”

  1. […] I wrote about the dark future facing American workers. Indeed, increasingly workers are not “employees,” but contractors, employers are […]

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