The 'Average Worker' Is Dead

assembly line average workerThere's a new buzz-phrase making the rounds these days: The death of average. A kid who does decently well in school, and does what she's told, is no longer guaranteed a job. And the average worker who does everything his employer asks shouldn't expect to keep his until retirement.

"The recession is a forever recession," said Internet marketing pioneer Seth Goodin in an interview on the Canadian talk show "George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight." Something bigger is going on; the industrial age, which lasted 80 years, is now coming to an apocalyptic end.

"For 80 years, you got a job, you did what you were told, you retired," he explained. "And good people could make above-average pay for below average work."

"Average Is Over" is the title of a chapter in Thomas Friedman's most recent book, "That Used to Be Us." In his Tuesday column with the same name, he explains, "so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation, and cheap genius."

"Being average," he said, "just won't earn you what it used to."

Right now, the U.S. is producing more goods than ever. But while production has increased by a third in the past decade, factory employment has fallen by the same amount, notes Adam Davidson in The Atlantic. New technologies have always replaced jobs, but today it's happening at a blinding rate.

The careers predicted to grow the most over the next several years, according to government data, are medical scientists, civil engineers, software developers, computer systems analysts, surgeons, nurses and consultants -- jobs that demand high levels of education, and exceptional problem-solving skills. In other words, they're jobs for above-average people.

Entrepreneurship has been heralded as the panacea for our current crisis: If no company will hire you, start your own company; if you can't find a job, make one up. But Americans weren't prepared for this reality. We still expect that we deserve a good job, with decent benefits, and a reliable pension, for doing OK.

"Our schools, our systems, our retirement things, our taxes, are all built around this notion of doing what you're told," said Godin.

He added that Americans have two options: Be cheaper than everyone else, or be better than everyone else. If you'll accept a lower wage for your work, then sure, you might get the job. But that, he says, is "a race to the bottom." On the flip side, the Internet has enabled people to get attention for their talents in an unprecedented way.

"If you can figure out how to do something interesting, or unique, or noteworthy, people will find you, and pay you extra," he said. And that's "a race to the top."

Friedman echoed this sentiment in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan last September. People should "think like an artisan," and make sure they're so proud of everything they do at their jobs that they would carve their "initials into it." And think like an immigrant: "Nothing is owed me, I don't have a place waiting for me at Harvard, I better understand the world I'm living in, and boy I better work harder than the next guy, because I've got nothing else going for me."

Next: America's Aging Workforce Prepares To Work Into Retirement

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No morals, No morals...I don't believe laziness should be rewarded, and I don’t believe these people making lottery wages, can possibly be working that hard,(in that no job Is worth what these people are making), at the same time…where does the living of life fit in, some people are proud of their hard 16/7 work days, others could give a d...m, some people just want to do a good job, go home and work hard at having a good family life, volunteering here and there, (What are we working for if not to improve life for ourselves and our fellow man) others want to put down people who have no desire to have a life of constant competition, and one-upmanship. But before all of this, society should have a moral responsibility to itself as human beings...however, money and position seem to be winning out...leaving millions of people to suffer...that speaks volumes, (or very little) about our humanity, and the leadership who continues to avoid, or delude us of their plans for the peoples of the world. Many of us are aware...that businesses are not trying to create jobs, while other go smiling to the slaughter and questioning nothing, as our existence on planet earth fades.

July 23 2012 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yet what's so funny is that American's on average are incredibly lazy workers. I've been looking for a job for a while and have to deal with people at companies who won't call you back, don't know the answers to questions, or sit on your paperwork because it's too much trouble to pass it on. As far as what I've seen, this article is correct. Average is dead. But what's in it's place is BELOW average. People in this country want to do less and less and complain they don't make more and more. The sad thing is, it's working and that's exactly what they are getting. It's the reward for bad behavior syndrome.

July 03 2012 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why don't we all just give up and kill ourselves. -- for those of us who are older, unemployed and at the end of our rope. What do you think Ms.. Gordon.

January 30 2012 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't agree with this article. My generation and the ones preceding it would bust their butts for their bosses. It wasn't just a job. Even being a receptionist was a career. If we were considered average, then the now generation is way less than average. I've never seen such poor customer service and lack of pride in ones job than I do now. These kids are lazy.

January 29 2012 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to patty92127's comment

I agree with you. When I was starting out we were all proud of what we did. Learning to take pride in your work whatever it was part of job training but that was long ago and far away. Today the skills we worked so hard to master aren't respected, ther're laughed at. What were once respected skills that made the people who had mastered them assets to a company are now work done by those too stupid for college and the people overhead.
We used to sign our work now we have no work to be proud of and if we go into a job and really put out the quality of work we once did we make someone look bad which makes us a threat and target. The kids just starting out are lazy because they learned the way up wasn't working hard it's eliminating people around them.
It was once work hard and learn, now it's do un to others before they get the chance to do un to you and greed is good.
We wanted our kids to do have all the things we didn't. Look what the world got in return.

January 29 2012 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After reading this article, I see that its title is incorrect. It's not that the average worker is dead. The average worker will continue to exist, but It's the old standard for the average job for the average wage for the average working conditions that is dead. The new standard for the average job is more work for lower wage in worse conditions.

January 26 2012 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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