We lived in Beaumont, TX for one year. It was the early 1970s, I was fresh out of college, getting my feet wet in the work world. I was a youth minister, but really preparing for my preaching years. Every week, (sometimes more than once a week), I would drive to a small bookstore. These days, we would call it an “independent bookstore.” It was a Christian bookstore – i.e., books that dealt with faith, and church, and preaching… The woman who owned the bookstore knew her books, and kept up with the new releases. I mean, she knew what was in these books, what they dealt with… I got to know this woman. She was “middle-aged,” and smart. I was young, hungry to learn. She was not a “clerk,” she was a teacher. When I resigned, and readied to leave Beaumont, she was one of the first I told.
I loved that bookstore – and her wise counsel.
I could tell other such stories. I am a serious Nero Wolfe fan. I have every volume of the Rex-Stout-written volumes, and re-read the entire corpus every few years. In Snyder Plaza in University Park, there used to be a Mystery Bookstore. The woman who owned it (at least, I assume she owned it), tried to tell me that the newer Nero Wolfe mysteries, written by Robert Goldlborough with the approval of the Rex Stout estate, were worthy of my time. I did not warm up to them, though I appreciated her recommendations.
But now… as much as I love the customer reviews on Amazon (our blogging colleague Bob Morris has written many, many of them), they do not quite mean as much as those conversations with that Beaumont bookstore owner meant to me.
And now, a few “fulfillment center” workers, and lines of code getting me my Kindle App versions of books, have replaced how many countless book-loving bookstore owners across the country?
Call this a snapshot of the modern economy, and one of the reasons why many jobs are disappearing, and others are “less” than they used to be. In recent weeks, we have learned that “temp workers” are rising rapidly in the overall percentage of jobs. Here’s the current national look, from this article:
Workers at temporary-help service agencies accounted for about one-third of U.S. job gains in June.
And, read this from Andrew Sullivan: Temps Are Here to Stay. It has links to more. Here’s a key paragraph.:
In the early 1980s, employment in the “temporary help services” industry—which covers both temp workers and employees of the firms that supply them—stood in the several hundreds of thousands. Now it’s 2.5 million, a seven-fold increase in less than four decades. By 2020, the BLS foresees more than 440,000 new jobs in the sector. In the meantime, the temp craze has expanded from air-conditioned offices to warehouses and construction sites.
And, I recently posted about Farhad Manjoo’s rather alarming look at the ascendancy of Amazon and its threat on all retail. And I am part of the reason – blame me. It so happens that I like this development. Over the weekend, I ordered: numerous household items, ink for my printer, a book or two for my Kindle App, and did so while never leaving my iPad or my easy chair. In other words, I am helping put people out of a job. I called my take on Manjoo’s article: Amazon’s Secret – Make it Easy; Make it Fast; Make it Insanely Convenient. And that is what Amazon has become for me – easy, fast, convenient. (Oh, and money-saving).
But, here is the thing. In our quest for convenience and speed, and in the successful efforts of so many companies’ innovative techniques in giving us “what we want” (Amazon is clearly #1 in this regard), the outcome is this: it takes fewer and fewer people to provide us what we want. (And, if you have not read, Amazon has invested in some robot company that will replace even more fulfillment center workers).
And, so… temp workers are on the rise; automation is on the rise; retail is threatened. And so I ask again, as I have numerous times on this blog, where will the jobs be?