Winning the Future of Work

By Chike Aguh

Winning this future of work matters because it fuels the economic inequality and lack of social mobility that defines this age.  The economic inequality of the US currently rivals countries like China and Russia, and that is because the economic gains of our new economy have flowed to an increasingly smaller group of Americans who live in the right places, have the right education and, at times, have had the power to institute policies that protect those gains.  This trend will only accelerate unless a response equal to the size of this challenge is taken.  According to McKinsey and Company, over one-third of jobs overall could be automated by 2030.  The cost of not stepping up here will be grievous and will be visited most heavily upon communities that have already disproportionately suffered: communities of color and residents of our industrial heartland.  

Winning the future of work is critical because that aforementioned inequality and lack of social mobility is also what helps fuel our political divisions.  While we must confront the racism and xenophobia that characterize much of our current political debate, we must also see the historical pattern of economic anxiety making it easier to divide people along lines of difference. Real wages for Americans in the middle of the income distribution are up a mere 3 percent since 1979, and those at the bottom have lost ground.   Additionally, The United States lost some six million manufacturing jobs in the 2000s before recovering slightly in recent years; the remaining twelve million manufacturing jobs today account for less than 10 percent of nonagricultural employment. As Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has argued: unless we solve this challenge, we will succumb to political sclerosis and civic division that will destroy our ability to be a world power.  

Lastly, winning the future of work is a necessity if we are going to truly have intergenerational justice.  If we do not solve this challenge, we will see massive economic harm visited upon Americans who have borne the brunt of this transition for the last forty years.  However, if our people and our government can step up in the way we have historically, then these new technologies and their equitably shared gains can fuel a new American century greater than the last.  To do right by our children and grandchildren, we must step up.

Chike Aguh (Chee-Kay Ah-Goo) is a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and Venture Partner at New Markets Venture Partners. He holds degrees from Tufts University (B.A.), Harvard University (Ed.M; MPA), and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (MBA). He is a Fulbright Scholar, former Council of Foreign Relations term member and Presidential Leadership Scholar.

Chike Aguh
Chike Aguh writes about public policy and developments in US government