| Business

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Economic uncertainy forces older workers to stay longer, reducing job chances for young

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Home prices, gross domestic product and stock indexes are rising. Unemployment has fallen to 7.3 percent, at least officially.

When those who have given up searching or have accepted part-time work are included, however, the unemployed total around 11 million, or 13.7 percent of the potential workforce.

Labor Department statistics show a worse picture for young workers: a steep decline from 16.4 percent to 10 percent in the share of the labor force held by those 20-24. The drop for those 16 to 19 is worse, from 11.2 percent to 3.8 percent.

Temporary jobs and low interest rates magnify insecurity, discouraging retirement. Fewer retirees means fewer job openings for younger workers and implies the creation of a bias against young workers. A solution to this discouraging and politically dangerous problem likely will require a revolution in thinking about jobs and education.

The end of the Cold War heralded greatly increased competition for low-paying jobs. There followed a huge export of jobs, to China and Japan especially. The ingenuity of American business eventually countered by major investments in information technology, including robotics, to boost productivity and cut costs.

Though good-paying jobs have mushroomed in IT and robotics, many low-paid workers were replaced. Recent examples include 3D printing, which enables the production of titanium fuselage and wing parts. This increased reliability and lowered costs and production times. But it reduced skilled, high-wage employment in production.

High-paying sales jobs have decreased. By putting sellers in direct contact with buyers, the Internet reduced “transaction costs” dramatically. Wall Street's vast earnings illustrate vividly the size of middleman's fees or commissions. Jobs have eroded among all manner of transaction facilitators, including home, used vehicle and vacation salespeople.

Information technology and robotics have increased productivity and the return of manufacturing jobs, bringing production close to its vast consumer market. Yet the number of jobs involved in production and sales has fallen dramatically.

More government regulation further delayed job increases. The implementation of the Patient Privacy and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, encourages the reduction of the traditional 40-hour work week, encouraging more part-time employment.

By definition, part-time work is temporary, pays less and carries few benefits or promotion prospects. It breeds job insecurity and encourages people to stay in school to obtain qualifications for which demand is falling.

One effect of low interest rates is the reduced earning of fixed income-based retirement accounts, creating financial insecurity.

That insecurity forces older workers to remain on the job rather than retire. Employers may retain a known, skilled worker rather than hire an unknown, untrained worker.

A solution demands creative thinking and difficult political decisions, such as encouraging job-sharing, adapting education and reducing regulations and taxation.

John Browne, a former member of Britain's Parliament, is a financial and economics columnist for Trib Total Media. Contact him at

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Student ‘geek squad’ to help train Steel Valley classmates on iPads
  2. Road, entrance may ease traffic, Dayton Fair officials say
  3. Steelers’ Harrison awaits go-ahead from Tomlin before practicing
  4. One Direction brings the thrills to Heinz Field audience
  5. 4 ejections, benches-clearing scrum mark Pirates’ win over Reds
  6. Law enforcement often feels overwhelmed by Mon Valley’s heroin epidemic
  7. Steelers notebook: WR Bryant sidelined after minor procedure on right elbow
  8. Inside the Steelers: Roethlisberger strong in goal-line drills
  9. Pa. breeding ground for corruption, experts say
  10. Pirates notebook: Burnett says ‘surgery is not an option’
  11. Slot cornerback Boykin should give Steelers options in secondary