New Wealth

That’s the name of Juliet Schor’s new book. Juliet was the guest speaker at the Boston Building Coop’s annual meeting held on May 3. An economist and sociology professor at Boston College, Juliet is one of the leading proponents of the (old) idea of rediscovering the balance between work and leisure.  It’s becoming challenging, especially given the climate crisis and shrinking resources. Well, maybe challenging is the wrong word. Urgent.

Technology has created enormous labor and time-saving resources. I like Juliet’s revisiting of the DIY label into “high-tech self-provisioning”.  One might cast off this DIY stuff as a leisure class activity until you understand the economics in her argument.

  • In year three of our ‘recovery’, unemployment is still very high. Currently 25 million workers are unemployed or under-employed. And the figures for 18-25 ears olds are truly staggering–40% under- or unemployed.
  • The latest news is even worse: jobs in the US are just plain disappearing–or it seems workers are giving up on looking. See the NYTimes article on our shrinking job market.
  • Food stamp use is at a historic high. This past year, 44 million Americans used food stamps.
  • Job creation is still lagging: our economy requires that 3-4 million jobs be created each year just to keep pace with the growing number of people aging into the workforce.
  • Last year, of the 2.5 million jobs created, 1.5 million went overseas.

What are the jobs in our future?  What are the skills that will help young people have satisfying, meaningful work?  In her earlier book, Plenitude, Schor describes two types of jobs, those that will be heavily reliant on technology and performed remotely; and jobs that have face-to-face engagement. Technology is having an increasingly large impact on all of our work and the belief is that jobs creation is strong in this sector. I am always surprised at the ways this manifests. Recently, Stanford University offered a free on-line course on Artificial Intelligence and 200,000 students signed up!  Teaching, information management, even many aspects of the medical world will be increasingly reliant on technology skills. As technology and users become more advanced, this can increase the reach of certain services, create job opportunities, and, on the down side, possibly shrink existing jobs.

And the face-to-face jobs? Those friendly service people in the neighborhood? Fixing your plumbing,  rebuilding a stone wall, painting, cooking, fine craftsmanship: these jobs will need equally skilled people who can provide vital services in a community.

Creating equal access to the types of skills, knowledge and training in the manual arts is no longer just for those who didn’t do well on the English test. By elevating these skills to a place of value in our economy we can help tip the balance in favor of job creation in areas that need craftsmanship, intelligence, problems solving skills, and strong habits of work. This new wealth of skills and experience offers opportunities for collaboration and cooperation within communities.

Juliet offered some examples of the new wealth initiatives:

  • A children’s clothing exchange that uses the “Netflix” model of mail exchange called ThredUp (thredup.com)

Take a look at some of the fabulous ideas and initiatives at The Center for the New  American Dream (newdream.org).

To read more from Juliet Schor: www.julietschor.org/

Executive Director of Apprentice Learning

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