President's Note, June 2024

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: June 10, 2024

Tosher, slubber doffer, knocker upper. These may sound like smarmy slurs. Actually, they are obsolete occupations. Toshers were sewage scavengers, which is as awful as it sounds. Slubber doffers removed bobbins from looms in knitting mills. Knocker uppers made noise to awaken people in the era before alarm clocks.

You won’t see Help Wanted ads for these positions as new tasks supplant archaic jobs in our increasingly automated world. Given the well-established trend toward smaller families in the U.S. and elsewhere, there are legitimate concerns about worker shortages. But the notion that we need more people is as outdated as slubber doffers.

We should start by considering the skills needed in tomorrow’s world. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “wind turbine technician” is the fastest growing occupation in the United States. In his State of the Union address, President Biden emphasized high-tech jobs paying upwards of $100,000 a year that do not require a college education.

Solutions can be structural rather than demographic. We can find a windfall of talented future workers right here at home by focusing on the 11 million children trapped in poverty. Maybe we should consider their futures the way we think about renewable energy: as a vast untapped resource.

As for the rising share of those in what is generally categorized as the “dependent” or “nonworking” age categories of under 20 and over 65, the Social Security Administration reports those levels were considerably higher during the peak baby boom years than today — and are projected to remain so. No reason to panic.

For various reasons, many prefer to keep working later in life. So, let’s not overlook the 55 million+ older Americans as a potent source for productivity. No one is suggesting that retired people be dragooned back into the workforce. But a ProPublica survey found that “a majority of older Americans with stable jobs are pushed out of work.” Let’s eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers blocking those who do want to continue to work.

Over time, the trend toward smaller families will require fewer workers in our society. We can transition successfully to a less-crowded future. After all, we’ve all been there before.

Anyone who thinks rampant population growth isn’t going to boomerang on us is living in a fantasy world. Perhaps we need to develop some modern version of “knocker uppers” to awaken people to the incalculable damage being done to our overcrowded living planet.