The fate of the US workforce

Steve Hamm

In response to my village BPO posting, commenter A Parent asked if I have a handy list of occupations for Americas who are put out of work by increasingly capable and low-paid Indians. I don't have such a list. (I certainly don't trust the bloated and highly optimistic reports the Labor Department churns out) And I worry a lot about the future of the US workforce.

We're in a strange time zone. Economic growth is fairly strong. Unemployment is low. Yet I have this uneasy sense that we're living off the productivity and wealth of our past. The children of the middleclass are expert and aggressive consumers (I think of it as America's core competence) and their lust for goods helps keep the economy perking along. But will they get jobs with decent incomes in a few years, or will they be selling $40 Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts to people slightly younger than themselves--and for $8 an hour? This is a very realistic scenario, I fear.

Still, I don't see a wave of protectionism being the answer. For starters, if we're to have any chance of peace in this world, people in other countries need a shot at economic prosperity. Second, I don't think attempts to wall ourselves off would really work long term. You have to compete to be competitive.

So the partial answers are things like improved education, awareness and responses by government and individuals, government retraining programs, and incentives (or deregulation) that stimulate innovation and new business models. Also, we have to steer clear of the hate and fear mongering of the likes of CNN's Lou Dobbs. All that does is boost ratings. Nothing constructive comes of it.

A few days ago, a Bangalore Tigers commenter (an Indian) asked the question: Why shouldn't Americans face the same challenges and economic uncertainties that Indians have faced for generations? Why shouldn't Americans be forced to pick up and move to another country in search of opportunities, just as Indians have? Those are very good questions. The answers seem to be that they should. Yet I fear the consequences.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.