Economics

Our Economy is Changing. Is this Good?

I grew up in an era of telephone and elevator operators. They were quickly replaced by technology. Next came pumping your own gas and the station attendants disappeared. Several of my relatives worked in the automobile plants where they assembled cars and trucks. Now those jobs are also gone as robots paint and assemble the cars. The assembly line changed as parts or components of the cars come partially assembled and all the workers disappeared. It is now possible to assemble the car in half the time with little or no manual labor.

But what is now disturbing is the closing of so many retail stores. So many people now shop on the Internet that the Malls of the 50s and 60s are now obsolete. Thousands of retail clerks will go the way of the elevator operator. Add to that the fact that grocery chains may now fall victim to food being delivered by special delivery services right to your home or office.

I haven’t been inside a bank in years. Why? Almost everything that you can do is on the bank’s web site including taking a picture of the check you want to deposit and electronically forwarding it to your account. Add to that the ATM cash machine and tellers in banks are fast disappearing.

Even Wall Street is changing as much of trading on the New York Stock Exchange is done by computers displacing hundreds of human traders. Technology is great but there is a huge downside. The worker in today’s economy could be perpetually unemployed if he or she does not develop the skills to compete in today’s job market. Thousands of jobs go unfilled as the people with the skills necessary to fill them are not available. Many technology firms that assemble their products overseas would like to return the jobs to the United States but can’t find an area with a worker pool with the skills to do it.

Now to make matters worse, the few limited skill jobs that are left in the United States are being outsourced to foreign countries. The textile industry has disappeared in the United States as well as Call Centers and many data processing operations are now appearing in countries all over the world. Pressure is being put on the major U.S. firms that do work overseas to invest in those nations. Over the past few years, even the mighty American General Electric (GE) went from operating 135 factories in 25 foreign countries to 325 plants spread across 40 countries.

Our society is rapidly changing and with it our economy. It may be time for our educational system to change also. College is good but the degree that one walks down the aisle with had better carry with it job opportunities especially if that degree was financed with borrowed money. We may consider specialty schools that teach software technology, computer processing, data tech assembly and design, to name just a few applications. Our infrastructure is crumbling and will have to be updated and or replaced. We will need machinists, welders, computer aided design specialists, and structural engineers. Our needs are changing and it is imperative that we recognize this change and change with it.


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About the author

Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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