“How” and “What” Jobs

Not all unemployment is created equal, because conditions are not the same for everyone in society.  Some people who lose jobs due to a recession, for example, are out of work for a different reason than people who lack necessary skills to compete in the job market, caught in what economists call a “poverty trap.”  Unfortunately, conditions might soon be similar for a greater number of Americans, as the poverty trap catches more workers through long-promised change in presidential economic policy.1

In recent remarks about government investment, Barack Obama explained how he believes his fiscal policy will decrease unemployment.  “For years you’ve been hearing about manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas,” said Obama, predicting an increase in future demand for electric car batteries based on his administration’s preference for the industry.  “Manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America.”  Aside from battery industry experts predicting that the government subsidies will result in a glut of electric car batteries, with supply becoming three times greater than global demand in the next four years, the hope for Obama’s manufacturing jobs is becoming increasingly less reliable for people who want economic security in the United States.  Federal Reserve data for June manufacturing provides ample evidence of the downward trend, with domestic factories operating at 71.4% of their capacity, down from 71.7% in May and lower than the 62-year year average of 80.8%.2

At the root of manual labor and manufacturing is the term manu (Latin: hand), decreasing in relevance as a factor of production for advanced economies like that of the United States.  As opposed to manufacturing workers of the industrial age concerned with “how” to perform at work, the information age requires knowledge workers flexible enough to supply “what” work is demanded.  Economic policy from the American president needs to reflect the reality of such change.3


1.  Graham Bannock, Ron Baxter, and Evan Davis, eds., The Economist Dictionary of Economics, Fourth Edition (Princeton: Bloomberg Press, 2003), 391.

2.  Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President in Holland, Michigan on Investing in Clean Energy,” The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-holland-michigan-investing-clean-energy.  Jonathan Weisman, “Plant Opening Stirs Industrial Policy Debate,” The Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2010, U.S. News.  Board of Governors, “Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization,” The Federal Reserve, http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g17/current/default.htm.

3.  Peter F. Drucker, Management Challenges for the 21st Century (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 133-159.