The future of jobs and employment

20/20 foresight: looking to the future

As we move further into the 21st century, it's natural to wonder what the future will bring: In what kinds of houses and communities will Americans be living in 2020? What kind of jobs will people hold? Will fewer of us be married? Writers Kim Campbell, Clayton Collins, Marilyn Gardner, and Elizabeth Lund sought answers to these questions - and more - from eight experts whose jobs require them to predict what our lives will be like in 15 years. Read excerpts from those interviews in this section.

Fifteen years from now, will the big story be about the way we work, or about the new kinds of work people will do - and what will those jobs look like?

Jobs that depend on routines, jobs that are basically following a set of rules, jobs that you can essentially reduce to a recipe - basic accounting, basic legal research, basic computer programming - those jobs, which used to be the pathway to the middle class, are either being outsourced or automated. [They're] not going to disappear tomorrow, but ... I wouldn't tell my own kids to do those kinds of work.

Tomorrow, and over the next couple of decades, [workers] have to look at what they're doing and ask themselves three questions: "Can someone overseas do it cheaper?" "Can a computer do it faster?" And "Is what [I'm] selling in demand in an age of abundance?"

I grew up in Ohio in the 1970s, when the Rust Belt was rusting. And I remember even my own father saying, "Well, we can't have just a service economy. We can't have an economy where everybody's giving each other haircuts." But the truth is, we made that transition just fine. Now we're making it again, and I think that there's plenty of stuff to do - if you look at some of the data on job growth for professions that require some degree of artistry and creativity - designers, for instance - or some degree of empathy and emotional intelligence: nurses.There are going to be plenty of opportunities.... But it's not going to be "knowledge workers," it's going to be creators and empathizers.

[Examples might include] inventors, nurses, caregivers, coaches, counselors.

But it's very difficult to predict. I think we can do a better job of [answering the question] "What are the abilities that someone is going to need?" [One is] the ability to see the big picture.... It's going to [require] some amount of play and playfulness. If you look at the video- game industry ... you need some amount of computer coding, but it's [also] providing enormous work for storytellers, for designers, for people who can fashion compelling experiences.

An accountant who's just doing basic accounting work is toast. But you can imagine accountants morphing to become broader, financial-life planners, and understanding where their clients are coming from, understanding their true needs, not just crunching numbers, because foreigners can do [that] cheaper, and computers can do it better. [But computers] can't understand someone's dreams; they can't design a compelling experience.

Daniel Pink is author of 'Free Agent Nation.' His forthcoming book, 'A Whole New Mind,' outlines the abilities workers must master to succeed in the future.

Will there be a middle class in 15 years, or will there be just the two extremes - poor and rich?

1957 was a peak birth year, with 4.3 million births, and in 2020 that group will be 63 years old, just getting ready to retire. You'll have a big group of people moving into the time of life when they're spending what they earned rather than what they're making. That will cause a bit of anxiety in the financial markets.

With so many highly productive workers leaving the workforce [due to retirement], you may see a decline in the rate of growth in average wages and productivity in 2018 to 2026.

Yet as people begin to spend what they've earned - spending on retirement and healthcare - there might be an increase in spending relative to income.

Overall, 2020 will be exciting. The US economy is terrific at these transitions.

When we look at that year, looking at our models of regional growth, we think California [will be] a strong economy overall, very diverse, from agriculture to high tech to entertainment. It has a highly skilled labor force, it's attractive to immigrants, which is good, and open to all sorts of people and ideas. It has always been kind of a productive place.

Texas has many of the same attributes, though it's a little less diverse.

There will be a lot of transition with manufacturing and outsourcing, yet what remains will be more highly skilled manufacturing activities. Memory chips, for example, are no longer made [in the United States], but processors, which require a higher degree of skill to manufacture, are.

[When this generation] begins drawing on savings, it will draw slowly, and no one knows how long they will live. No one spends everything in retirement, so by 2040 a big inheritance will go to the next generation.

Martin Holdrich is a senior economist with Woods & Poole Economics in Washington, D.C.

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