The Decline of Work

Andy Kessler:

You hear these all the time now. “I want a career with a purpose,” which usually means an activist. Or “I need a good work-life balance,” which suggests someone doesn’t want to work very hard. Gimme a break. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company told me he recently spent an entire afternoon discussing his company’s pet-bereavement policy. He asked the human-resources folks, “Let me get this right, someone’s goldfish dies, and they get a week off from work?”

Work has become a dirty word. Cyber bohemians just want to dream and stream. And now this: The New York Times ran an opinion piece titled “How to Fight Back Against the Inhumanity of Modern Work.” What? Paper cuts are a bigger risk these days than losing an arm in a loom. Still, I thought the piece would be about dirty jobs—the hardships of coal miners, the plight of burnt-out nurses or the inhumanity of waking up at 5 a.m. to milk cows. Nope. The author complained about digital monitoring—coders, cashiers and others being tracked by evil bosses, who are measuring productivity. Gasp! Has society become that spoiled? Apparently so. The prevailing thinking is we’re all Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz wrapping chocolates on a conveyor belt.

Only 8.4% of U.S. nonfarm payroll positions are in manufacturing. Many of those jobs were exported long ago to cheaper labor markets such as China. Even if some of those jobs return to the U.S., many workers aren’t qualified. Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame said, “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” So they are underemployed. Or quit. Or seek purpose and balance.

We rightly encourage STEM jobs—science, technology, engineering and math. I recently learned of HEAL jobs. Dog walkers? No, jobs in health, education, administration and literacy. These are the growing jobs of a vibrant service economy.