Monday, January 9, 2012

The Forbes List of Top 10 Employers

Forbes has just published the top 10 employers of people aged 18 to 29 (referred to in this article as "Generation Y").  It probably does suggest that the big period of structural upward mobility (people getting better jobs than their parents because better jobs become more common) is over for the foreseeable future. Low-end service and retail occupations probably will be the future of many young people today, and there will probably be many more frustrated, dissatisfied workers with expensive educations who will see themselves as perpetually underemployed. But there are reasons to interpret this list with some caution.

First, the armed services are currently the number one employer. This will probably change, unless the United States becomes embroiled in new overseas struggles. It will mean that unemployment and underemployment will be exacerbated when the military ceases to absorb youthful labor, unless the economy turns around dramatically, which appears improbably at present. Second, even if many of these young people are stuck in life-long service or retail jobs, some will achieve upward mobility over the course of their lifetimes.  I don't know what the top employers were when I graduated from college, but I spent a number of years as a bicycle messenger, janitor, and retail clerk, and worked in a variety of other positions that paid off mainly in experiences. So, the list is likely to change by the time these young people are in their forties and fifties. Third, in ten years people in this generation will be competing with a smaller cohort of workers younger than themselves because the "baby boom echo," the generation born to the large number of baby boomer parents in the 1980s and 1990s, is about to come to an end. This demographic drop may be offset somewhat by continuing immigration, but if low-skilled immigrants still predominate, then some of the young people currently in retail and service will see spots open up in professional and managerial occupations.  So, I'm not sure the Forbes list tells us precisely what they future of work will look like, although it is troubling.

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