Disability benefits: the new unemployment checks

This American Life is an excellent podcast, but occasionally puts out episodes on subjects I don't care for - fiction, reminisces about home life, etc. There is one heuristic you should use for filtering American Life podcasts: listen to the podcasts they release that tell one story for the whole hour.

Example whole-hour podcasts, that are great stories: the NUMMI plant in Fremont, a story about Amanda Williams and juvenile justice in Georgia, a story on the Social Contract and why it's so hard to fix the country's current budget problems.

The latest episode of This American Life spans an entire episode, and is similarly excellent. Ostensibly it's about healthcare in the US, but the true story is about a class of US citizens who are no longer fit for the workplace, and the steps they're taking to cope.

Occupational change over time is completely normal, and in fact, a very good thing for everyone. At one point in time, 98% of US workers were farmers. Imagine if the government had implemented protective measures for jobs in farming that were at risk of disappearing, as farming tools got better and workers became more productive. It would have prolonged the use of inefficient farming techniques and delayed moves into more productive industries.

Historically, sectoral shifts in the US economy have been handled without too much disruption to society. Workers retire in less productive sectors, and new graduates enter in promising industries. Of course in individual instances a mill may shut down and leave people without a job but on the whole it's worked out okay.

Lately there's been lots of evidence that the economy is starting to shift much faster than the retirement/new entry process can adjust to. The result is a giant swath of society that is unable to contribute in a meaningful way, or earn their keep. This American Life focuses in on this group of people, currently numbering in the tens of millions (as well as the group of rent seekers catering to this group). I'd suggest you tune in, because this problem is not going away.

I don't have solutions or criticism; the story is more sad than anything. You should be tuned into what is happening with the workforce in the US today, especially when most of us live in areas surrounded by people that share our socioeconomic background and status.

I'd encourage you to read Kevin Kelly's recent post on The Post-Productive Economy. It's one view of where we might be heading.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

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