This isn’t the economy your father or mother knew. The reality is that decades of globalization have made certain that western economies like ours have changed, almost without recognition.
Getting a decent full-time job just isn’t that easy anymore. That’s because the vast majority of employers have moved into providing nothing more than part-time, contract, and temporary jobs, often without benefits. Companies around the world are looking for any competitive edge – even at the expense of people’s lives.
We call this new jobs reality ‘precarious work.’
In Canada, our millennials and workers over age 55 account for a shocking 50 percent of unemployment. Both these groups are vulnerable, as the first group hasn’t yet developed many job skills and experience and the second group is financially vulnerable, since the Guaranteed Income Supplement doesn’t kick in until age 65.
Focusing only on job creation – as every government continues to do across Canada – isn’t good enough by itself because it’s not realistic. Focusing only on the hope of creating new jobs takes away the need to think and talk about other realities about our economy. No government is able to guarantee a stable supply of labour for people any longer.
Along with and part of globalization, automation has also played a huge role in changing the way our economy works. We now have automated intelligence (AI) that can accomplish incredible, complex tasks and even manage complex networks with a speed that can’t be matched by human standards.
For instance, the self-driving car will replace human drivers because the cost will be significantly lower. Any competitors will have to do the same thing or they won’t be successful. Very quickly then, this entire sector of jobs will soon evaporate.
Service-oriented jobs are not safe either. Kiosks at McDonald’s have already been taking orders. The truth is, most jobs can be broken down into specific tasks and automation can usually replicate what needs to be done at a fraction of the price.
It’s quite possible that machines could be doing more than half the work we do as human beings in the coming decades. Obviously, the unemployment rate could cause the breakdown of our existing economic system. So what alternatives do we have? For one thing, we’ll need a new system that could provide income — but not necessarily from labour. We would need better income distribution of wealth which is the role of government. That’s where a basic income guarantee comes in, as will be piloted in Ontario this spring.
About 42 percent of Canadian jobs are at high risk from automation in the next 10 to 20 years. The jobs most at risk are in industries such as trades, transportation and equipment operation, natural resources and agriculture, sales and services, manufacturing and utilities, administration and office support.
Even jobs that require creative skill or analytical power are not necessarily safe. We already have machines that can write prose. Even journalistic writing could one day be done by computers.
The ‘Other’ Work We Do
When most people talk about work they think of paid labour – the jobs we’re employed at. But we also need to have a discussion about all the uncompensated work most people do every day, in one form or another. All those caregivers, volunteers, interns, and moms and dads who look after kids are all doing work but not getting paid. They are not sitting idle. They add value to our society because of what they work at each and every day – even though they are not paid.
Those who become the primary caregivers for others often find it impossible to combine care work with paid work. Caregiving is too often unrecognized by governments, unsupported and usually stressful.
It’s important to realize that a basic income is not just for that small cross-section of people are unable to find or do paid labour. Basic income can also help those who are working for less than a living income.