Since narrowly averting a depression four years ago the U.S. has become a country that is broadly experiencing higher rates of people out of work than we’re used to. The biggest problems are found on the map of unemployment offered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Labor is being watched very closely this election year. The only ‘swing state’ in the U.S. that has higher than average unemployment is Nevada. Is that significant? Just one state and even one county can matter enormously…just ask Florida’s Palm Beach County. We have an interesting few months ahead as the availability of work is a factor in electing our president.
Beyond the U.S., we’re living in a highly globalized time with more interconnectivity between people and work than ever before. A worker in Detroit is displaced by a worker in Shanghai more quickly that at any time in history. But before anyone blames China, that same worker in Shanghai is displaced by another in Bangladesh, and so on.
We trek and do humanitarian work in Nepal and can’t help but notice that people in the high Himalayas are carrying cell phones. Twenty years ago the same people grew everything they ate, found every building material locally and maybe traded with nearby villages to balance out their needs. The Masai of the Serengeti are as connected as the brokers of Wall Street. When goods can be sold everywhere, the definition of a market can be ‘everywhere’.
The one thing about work that never seems to change is adaptability to changing conditions. Poor skills, inefficiency and corruption make labor conditions fragile and easily disrupted. The places that have the best skills, the most ingenuity and reliable government continually weather the storms.
For us in the US, today is a holiday to celebrate workers, similar to May Day elsewhere. Today’s a great day to enjoy a barbecue and think about what labor means in September 2012.