Designing the Future of Work

Posts tagged ‘unemployed’

Crossing the Technology Gap

Technology Gap photo

I typed these words to a friend, not knowing whether she would understand anything in the message besides Word:

Not sure why but just to be safe I resaved it in Word 97 in case you have an earlier version but I am sure you probably have an more current version of Word than that. I also saved it as a PDF in case you have Adobe Acrobat Reader. Let me know if you still have problems.

My friend is an Older Boomer and she adopts technology only as she needs it, and she doesn’t need it much. She lives fully in the non-digital world, preferring to do puzzles rather than surf, also something she’s never done, the internet.


There seems to be something to the dividing line some demographers use to separate Boomers into Older and Younger.

I am a Younger Boomer in a family of Older Boomers and I have loved technology since the day I turned on a television.

Yes, TV and I were introduced to the world around the same time.

My brother and I dragged my sister reluctantly into having a home computer when I was moving to Prague and she would have to SKYPE me. It was a gigantic task that involved me buying things online that she could pick up at her local Staples, my brother planning to fly to Phoenix to install the thing, and a lot of panicked resistance from my sister. She is now excitedly SKYPYing with my brother and me, but that’s as far as it goes.

The Facebook account her son set up for her goes unused. Many of her friends are on Facebook. I know because they insisted on being my Facebook friends. My sister is part of a loyal quad of women as endearing as the Sex and The City gang. Two of the three happily post pictures of children and grandchildren. My sister and her other friend prefer to meet in person for lunches and movie nights, dinners and holidays, the images shared in their minds, but not on the web.

ScannerI am trying to teach my sister to use the scanner in the snazzy printer/fax/scan/copy unit we got her. Then she can scan her edits to my novel by email instead of the snail mail mode she’s used for years. My sister is a writing professor and her input was worth postage both ways. But soon I’ll have her feedback in days instead of weeks. I can employ technology like Team Viewer or video calls to get through it, but there is a river of anxiety to cross.

My older brother, mentioned above, is a strange hybrid. He makes a healthy living at a technology company. He loves technology, and has bookshelves of books on coding and networks. He not to secretly believes these networks are evil and for years forced me to buy him books off of Amazon unwilling to give them his credit card information.  I finally reminded him the local bookstore could order books for him and he’d be supporting local bookstores. He now knows the staff by first names and the guy who manages the technology section is willing to talk tech with him for hours.

My late Baby Boomer friends are all over the map on technology. Most, quite honestly struggle, even when successful. They touch tech with the fear of being left behind, mixed with f*@# this why can’t I just go read a book on the sofa.

To be honest, I have Gen X’ers who grumble about the technology.  Some who refuse to even own a smartphone.  They have the right to demand their freedom, but will they pay for it with fewer career prospects and lower income potential?

Tech gap catching up

As society widens the gap between haves and have nots, tech is a part of that. You can leap across that technology canyon to greater riches and prosperity. The jobs websites are filled with listings for software engineers and digital social media gurus. Do us bottom of the Baby Boom have enough tech savvy to take a run for it? Some of us were early adopters, even if our first experience with the computer was taking punch cards to the processing center on campus, before computers were personal.

I have always loved technology, don’t know why. I resisted when my father insisted I take typing in high school, I was never going to be someone’s secretary.

ibm selectricBut, I ended up hauling my IBM Selectric to type the Bar Exam after law school. Once I had felt the freedom of tapping away at keys I was hooked. Had one of the first Palm Pilots because my thoughts had always been scattered and I needed a better filing system.

Now that I am in Prague, a city with lightning fast internet, world class universities, and global tech companies like Microsoft, I am feeling the tech pulse beating in my heart. I like telling stories about technology, like planning technology, analyzing technology, touching technology.

Unfilled job CollageSo, what is going to happen to my Boomer friends. Well, truth be told they are all retired or semi-retired or in forced retirement because technology bars them from the job market.

The global challenge is to reskill the over 50 unemployed population that exploded in the U.S. and Europe during the Great Recession. There are jobs in both these markets going unfilled because of the skills gap.

Is there hope for this group, or will they be too resistant to change?

Rise of the over 60 apprenticeResearch has found that older workers on average are as productive as younger workers. When reengaged they add value to the development of the next generation of leaders.

There is much at stake in this conversation. The ratio of Baby Boomers to everyone else is tipping the talent scale.

Ratio of Older to Younger Workers

I’m not worried. Just like grandma can learn how to email and view Instagram when an adorable baby photo as the reward, and seniors master SKYPE to stay in touch with loved ones, it’s not over until it’s over. That’s what my silver-haired friends, oddly they all are, demonstrate every time they travel into technology with me.

Succesfully crossing the gap


Andrew Jenks, a documentary filmmaker whose social television found a home on MTV, chronicled his experiences living for one week at a time with young people from all walks of life.   Through the show, college tours, Facebook and Twitter, Jenks uncovers the raw nerves that are jangling through his generation.

Andrew Jenks

Jenks:  The thousands of stories that I have come across have left a deep impression on me. These are not just notes of desperation. These are remarkable stories of resilience. It’s clear that we are a generation seeking answers. Most importantly, each story demonstrates how urgent it is that we make a difference — that we, as young people, can be part of the solution, not the problem.

The resilience of the people I have met shows an underlying theme that is hard to ignore, as I read in this recent tweet:

@CYTXXX “I vote for compassion. It encompasses everything: love, understanding, tolerance, and respect, at the least.”

Jenks:  My generation is enduring the brutality of two wars, a struggling economy that is hitting us especially hard, and a political leadership that is mortgaging our future for today’s votes.  Recent tweets reminded me of what this potentially means:

@McTXXX “‘What’s known as “The Greatest Generation” arose from deep economic problems and war. 2day we have a new set of challenges./I want to inspire my peers to create a future they believe in rather than live the future they have been told to believe in.”

Via Facebook, TaraMXXX said, “It’s really absurd how expensive it is to go to school and how difficult and stressful it can be to get financial aid. To do anything in this age you have to go to college yet it’s so expensive and unreasonable for people to pay that much. It’s not fair.”

A Generation of Slackers? Not So Much

Collective action has worked in the past; the Russian revolution, the Suffragettes’ movement, Ghandi, civil rights, anti-apartheid. The impossible was achieved.   So what is Generation Now to do?

Jenks agrees with @Michelle2XXX who recently tweeted, “I want to help change the definition of my generation. I want to stand up and speak out… I just wish I knew exactly what to say.”

The Indignados of Spain, out of growing frustration with government insensitivity to the plight of the young unemployed, are finding their voice.  After taking over town squares all over Spain, and a march to Madrid, the movement has found momentum.   The fight against the system is becoming bigger and bigger in Europe. Newly formed groups of Indignados and like-minded people are planning and undertaking their own protest marches, on foot, to Brussels to demonstrate in front of the EU headquarters.

There are known to be several groups of people underway from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Swiss, UK and Holland, there is even rumor that a group from Russia is already marching, all to arrive in Brussels in the next two months.

And exactly because they are becoming many, there has been a date set for one big protest in Brussels, October 15th

With Twitter and Facebook igniting and capturing protests around the world, what will be the tipping point that releases the voices of America’s youth who have the most to lose and everything to gain.

It’s All About the Debt

As the world waits with bated breath for the raising of the U.S. debt ceiling, debt is in the news globally.  Slowly and painfully the world has recognized that the ferocious economic growth that became the promise of the future was made almost entirely possible by debt.  Capital markets have become increasingly fueled by creative investment strategies that are heavily dependent on a mortgaged tomorrow instead of real labor in real time, when that tomorrow never came a new future loomed on the horizon. 

Debt Crisis Deal Sought to Head Off Stock Plunge

While Americans are drowning in debt, living in homes with “underwater” mortgages, or in rented apartments because they lost their homes, spending is not top of mind.  Even with Americans unemployed or living in fear of losing their jobs with each announcement of layoffs, the Government, Wall Street and Madison Avenue are counting on citizens to shake it off and start spending.  American Express was “newly cool” when they partnered with Facebook to get deals to their cardholders  in the moment so they would spend, spend, spend.  The co-founder of Twitter has staked his next billions on Square, which enables small businesses to charge credit cards by iPhone.  Any potential barriers are being stripped away to get folks swiping those credit cards to Save America.

But America and the world are credit fatigued.  We are not even remotely capable of spending our way to economic safety.  Is it a dark and barren landscape we face, or is this the turning point toward a new dream?

Transformational change that was started by the environmental sustainability movement is leading  us, slowly, to a new world order.  Saving, conserving, reusing is replacing spending and conspicuous consumption.   Frugal is the new Black.

I recently went to the SF Goodwill and found a custom made pair of jeans that sold online for $280 for $5.39, and a Tahari blazer, barely worn, for $13.29.  And I could hold my head high because I was spending green and looking good doing it.  It said so on the poster in the window.  Shopping here was the environmentally conscious thing to do.  Finally the homeless and I had something in common;, where we shopped.

Sustainability is about a whole system way of thinking.  Many traditional cultures hold this value very strongly. For example, in their councils, the Iroquois and other Native American groups required that each decision be evaluated by asking “What impact will this have on the seventh generation from today?” On the other hand, the world is full of the ruins of civilizations that died because they sacrificed the value of sustainability to the pressures (and greed) of the present – they overgrazed, overfarmed and generally overexploited their surroundings and their people.

What sustainability Really Means     

The World may have become too much.  The pause button is crossing more people’s minds than ever.

I left behind 25 years of stuff and kept just enough to fit in a trunk.  It stems from having to get rid of my mother’s possessions which even included things that she had kept of my grandmother’s, who had died 20 years before.  I vowed to never do that to my children.  Letting go of all the things was a blessing.  Everything you hold on to then has a purpose and a meaning.  You ask yourself for each thing you bring to your home is it worth the time and space it will take up.

HowCast’s Idioit’s Guide to Minimalism

There are things our government can do to  rebuild this battered nation.  When in a Depression look for lessons from the last one.   Roosevelt  saw that the size of chronic unemployment would take federal government intervention, a Civilian Conservation Corps to turn things around.  It was the single most successful public works employment program of the entire New Deal era.  Created by an executive order signed by Roosevelt on April 5, 1933, the CCC enjoyed a nine-year life.  During that time, it directed the energies of more than three million young men on a tremendous array of conservation and land development projects from Florida to California.  By the end of 1935 there were CCC camps in every state in the union, as well as in the Virgin Islands; Puerto Rico, and then-territories of Alaska and Hawaii.

So what’s the modern-day version?  What infrastructure could be built in this era.  We need so many things; like an educational system that will deliver the well-trained minds to fuel our retirement, or energy sufficiency to improve the security of our nation.  Crumbling levees even offer projects reminiscent of the “New Deal” bridges that were built.

Update the Conservation Corp

Let Them Eat Cake – Will the Widening Gap Between the Rich and Poor Lead to Revolution?

In the  Financial Timess, Pamela Gordon, whose income lands her smack in the middle class, was asked if she felt middle class.  “I think middle class is someone who doesn’t have to wait until payday to pay their bills.  If I miss one paycheck I’m in trouble.”  Well fewer and fewer Americans are meeting that definition. 

Income Gap Between the Rich and Poor Widest Ever

Wages have been stagnant since the 1970’s and declined since the turnoff the century.  Both the relative quantity and quality of US median-income jobs has deteriorated.  Coupled with the effects of the Great Recession, this decline has undermined the American dream.  The housing crisis has left millions owing more than their homes are worth, while the distance between top earners and the median has grown, and the number of well-paying factory jobs has shrunk.

Watch This Video

In the postwar years there was a belief in developed economies that each generation could expect to have materially better living standards than their parents.  But wages have declined in countries like Germany and Japan.  Some of the pressure on the middle-income households was masked by the credit boom, which allowed families to spend more than they earned.  According to Robert Reich, former U.S. Labor Secretary, the idea that your children will do better than you now seems an illusion for many Americans.  So where did the growth in per capita national income go?  The money flowed almost exclusively to the very richest. The Income Gap has been widening for some time;  the earnings of US individuals with pre-tax income in the top 1 per cent accounted for 8 percent of growth in 1974, but rocketed to 18% by 2008.

Demand for high-skilled jobs has outweighed the growth of graduates for more than a generation.  At the bottom of the earnings distribution, technology is still irrelevant, being of little use for tasks such as cleaning or caring for the elderly.  But it has severely diminished the demand for routine but skilled task – the former backbone of employment for the middle class – from factory workers to fork-lift drivers.  In our emerging world the fork-lift truck driver has been replaced by an automated distribution center.

Although the US has long had one of the highest income gaps, this is not just an American phenomenon.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found increasing income inequality between the mid 1980s and late 2000s in 17 out of 22 “advanced” economies.  Countries such as Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which have traditionally had low inequality, are no longer spared from the rising inequality trend.   See Rising Income Gap in China

As discussed in an earlier blog, even the well-educated are finding a chilly reception in the Great Recession.  It was income inequality, the poverty and unemployment of educated youth that led to the uprisings in Yemen, Syria and Egypt.  It is the point where education and hard work does not offer the promised reward that can be the tipping point for uprising. 

Sustainable Workforces – the Necessary Evolution

The U.S. way of life is under attack.  China is poised to ascend to the global throne.  What hope is there for us?  There is a way. 

Co-authors Phelps, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the “natural” rate of unemployment, and Tilman in  How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, argue that dynamism in the U.S. has actually been in decline for a decade; with the housing bubble fueling easy (but unsustainable) growth for much of that time, we just didn’t notice.  They finger several culprits: a patent system that’s become stifling; an increasingly myopic focus among public companies on quarterly results, rather than long-term value creation; and, not least, a financial industry that for a generation has focused its talent and resources not on funding business innovation, but on proprietary trading, regulatory arbitrage, and arcane financial engineering.  The way out is a million points of light – innovating and redefining success.

The authors warn that lengthened unemployment will erode people’s skills so that they are no longer even qualifying for their old jobs.  What they don’t fully take into account is the resilience of the human spirit.  Recharge your battery by giving back, volunteering.  The despair you may feel will be lifted.  And then, if we form a culture and community that supports the belief in following your passion, the downtrodden unemployed will  use their “sabbatical” to redefine who they want to be and what they want to be doing.  The old adage that you help yourself by helping others can spring into life by an energized cadre of the unemployed pursuing their dreams and learning to live a life that while lean on material possessions, is rich on meaning and fulfillment.  There are stories, even in these difficult times, of people following their passion and having it lead to economic security.  I am one of them.

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