Dynamist Blog


My New York Times Magazine article was not about the macroeconomic numbers of jobs. I didn't use the household survey in any of this reporting. These are not phantom numbers derived by statistical estimation from the household survey. These are real people with real jobs. We are getting a false picture of where jobs comes from 1) because the BLS survey doesn't break out some of these categories 2) because these growing occupations disproportionately involve self-employment or unincorporated partners and 3) for unknown reasons, even some employees who should be picked up on the payroll surveys aren't, at surprisingly high rates that no one can explain. The goal of my article was to provide a more accurate mental picture of where jobs might come from and to provide some anecdotal specifics to back up the general economic insight that rising productivity reallocates, rather than eliminates, productive resources, including labor. And, for what it's worth, I first started writing and thinking about this problem during the Clinton administration.

That's the reply to the serious criticisms of the article. Then there's the more common, less serious criticism, "these aren't good jobs." Says who? Not the people who have them. If you look down on these jobs, that says more about your snobbery--or perhaps your ignorance of the drudgery of factory jobs--than about the work itself.

I've been writing about the evolution of work long enough to notice a persistent pattern: If you point out the high-wage jobs being created, people say, "We can't all be brainiacs and techies. What about the average high school graduate? They'll be flipping hamburgers at minimum wage." If, as in this article, you point out the error of that assumption and demonstrate that high school graduates are in fact finding work that pays reasonably well (and is satisfying to boot), people say, "Well, what about the computer programmers?"

The economy is constantly creating, as well as destroying, jobs for people with many different levels of skill and training. My NYTM piece was concerned mostly about people without much education, but with discipline and skills--the classic "work hard and play by the rules" middle class. I could have written a similar piece on jobs that do require higher education, but high-income, highly educated NYTM readers are more likely to know about those jobs.

As for the comment on Dan Drezner's site that freelancers have trouble getting paid, that's true for people like me--it's the bane of my financial existence--but it isn't true for people in the jobs I wrote about. They mostly get paid at the time they deliver their product or service.

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