Presidential debate on economy fails to focus on doomed service sector jobs, researcher says

Economist says candidates missing key point

Much of the debate about jobs in the 2016 presidential campaign has focused on unemployment and the decline in manufacturing, but what gets overlooked is the fact that thousands of service sector occupations are destined to become obsolete, according to recent research by the top economist at Indeed, a job search engine.

Eleven percent of Americans work in jobs that are doomed because of automation or globalization, and a little more than half of those jobs — 57 percent — are service jobs, including accounting, mail delivery and fast-food cooking, economist Jed Kolko reported in “Will Your Job Disappear? Economic Anxiety, Demographics, and the Future of Work.” Kolko also found that many of the jobs expected to disappear are held by white males without college educations — a demographic that makes up a significant segment of Donald Trump’s support base.

The risk of job loss creates a particular kind of economic stress, Kolko said. “It’s not just the risk of losing your job but the risk of losing your job and having the difficulty of finding a job in the same field,” he said. “If you’re in a shrinking occupation in a place where that occupation is clustered, there is risk to your neighbors and your home values.”

While economic discontent fuels Trump’s populist message, the Republican candidate’s campaign has focused on standard measures of economic pain, such as the economic toll of industrial decline and the unemployment rate. However, Kolko said, the groups who exhibit the greatest economic anxiety are more likely to hold jobs expected to disappear.

“If the candidates want to understand where the anxious electoral votes are, at-risk occupations tell a very different story than current unemployment rates or recent job growth,” Kolko wrote.

Hillary Clinton’s jobs plan, like Trump’s, emphasizes investment in American manufacturing. However, her plan also pairs the investment with a commitment to ensure the future job market can adapt to technological changes.

The Labor Department’s September jobs report showed that U.S. employers added 156,000 jobs last month, a number lower than economists had predicted, and the unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.9 percent in August to 5 percent. Responses to the report were predictable in their focus on the unemployment rate and the number of jobs added rather than the sustainability of jobs. It is worth noting that the majority of the 156,000 jobs added were in the service economy — the kinds of jobs Kolko predicts will soon be obsolete.

In an economic era defined by wage stagnation, global trade and a proliferation of part-time minimum wage jobs, economic populism has been a common refrain this election. Kolko argued in his findings that the presidential candidates “need to dig deeper than unemployment rates and recent job growth and take shrinking occupations into account in order to understand where the future of work is cause for optimism or concern.” 

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