I was reading the news yesterday and stumbled across a surprising fact. Considering all the media accounts that I have been seeing accusing China of 'stealing US jobs', it was particularly surprising.
Evidently, China's total manufacturing employment is going down at a rate that, although not as high as here, is comparable.. (ie. its not that much lower)
The same as here, China's manufacturing workforce is declining, although also like the US, their service job workforce is increasing.
China lost 15 million manufacturing jobs between 1995 and 2002. (During that period, the US lost 2 million, which is still a LOT, because the size of the total workforce here is much smaller)
What are the reasons China is losing these jobs? The same as here, increased costs of labor relative to even lower wage countries and also rapid improvements in manufacturing automation are making the cost of even China's cheap labor higher in relation to the cost of more machines.
See, for example,
Japanese robots enter daily life
Robots set to overhaul service industry, jobs
Will service jobs take up the slack here, and in China?
Honestly, its hard to say, but I think the indications are no, that there, just like here, service jobs are less skilled jobs that tend to be much more interchangeable.
So, they tend to pay less and often, obviously, they don't offer job security because they don't take much skill.
A bigger factor may simply be increased use of automation in many different capacities.
Obviously, especially since the Internet and especially, mobile computing has expanded, the opportunities for automation to enter many new fields is expanding by leaps and bounds.
Even jobs previously thought safe from automation, like delivery and agricultural jobs, are now threatened in many developed countries where cheap labor is not plentiful.
In a continuous process that has been going on for well over a century, in manufacturing, business automation of many kinds is making huge strides in helping businesses shed workers at all levels.
Its also creating new jobs, my guess is that, at te beginning of each new technology, at least one or two new jobs for every five or ten old jobs that are replaced.
(This number declines as the commodity is commodified)
There are many new classes of technical jobs, small in number, designing, installing and maintaining automation systems in various ways. Those jobs pay well, but they are also a rapidly moving target. The product cycle from idea, to custom implementation (i.e. profitable) to commodity (cheap, mass produced) is very fast. The money for small business good but in that time, a business needs to establish a niche and market it well, because that window of time is short, it can be as short as five to seven years.
What does all this mean? For both Americans, Chinese, and really, all the other manufacturing workers globally, things are changing quickly. Its not enough to simply be good, or cheap. Jobs are getting harder and harder to find and keep. There is powerful downward pressure on wages in many markets because of this. (although in China, because they have been so low historically, wages are going up, but they are still very, very low compared to the US, Japan and Europe, in particular)
Looking ten or fifteen years into the future is hard under these circumstances. The era of the 'job' MAY be ending, to be replaced by the era of the contract or task.
We will need to adjust our expectations and behaviors accordingly as we enter this post-industrial landscape..
Perhaps its time to try to save more, spend less, and push for a new look at the kind of safety nets that other developed countries have? Perhaps a shorter work week might buy us some time, also.
To preserve jobs here in the US, a focus on quality has helped us in the past, and will continue to help, but we also need a renewed focus on the importance of requiring health and safety standards in other countries we trade with to be higher. Otherwise, it is a grossly unequal situation. US companies that are involved in foreign countries should stop pushing for further relaxations or eliminations of their safety and pollution standards.
I don't know a way to force them to do this but its essential to slowing the disappearance of human done jobs here in the US.