The Mosaic Economy – A Fresh Look at the Labor Market

Mosaic Economy

“There is no longer a lobstering industry in Massachusetts,” the professor said confidently to his students in his introductory economics class. My friend’s son’s eyes opened wide, his face still tanned from a summer spent with his father on their lobster boat in Quincy, Massachusetts. He tried to talk to the professor, but sensed that the professor didn’t quite believe his description of the lobster fishing that took place off the shores of Boston, from boats that came out from Quincy, South Boston, Saugus and other urban ports.

We all have stories of hearing of the demise of something we know is alive and well.   In his book “Deep Economy,” environmental activist Bill McKibben writes about an official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture who spoke several years ago about the demise of farming, suggesting that in the near future, agriculture in the United States would largely be focused on supplying turf for lawns and golf courses and seedlings for backyard gardens; and that farming for food would continue to be a smaller and smaller sector of the economy. The official did not anticipate the expansion of organic farming, urban agriculture, and many other food and farming movements that are breathing new life into agriculture and drawing many people back into agriculture and related work.   The recent resurgence of manufacturing provides another example of new life, as many high tech and traditional manufacturing fields are re-tooling, expanding and eagerly seeking workers.

It is easy to over-generalize trends and patterns to tell a story, and to publish media reports about a future where practically everyone is working in the newest, up-and-coming fields, and virtually no one is working in older, traditional fields. It is also easy to develop career advice based on whatever seems to be the currently most popular career fields.

But how can we take a fresh look at labor market data to get a realistic picture of the full mosaic of jobs where people work?  I have been using interviews, statistics, history and other data to dig into the labor market to find patterns of creative energy, renewal and optimism.   Labor market statistics show that the distribution of jobs is much more diverse than many media reports suggest.  A study of  history shows the natural tendency of market economies to revive and renew traditional sectors of the economy, reclaiming valuable knowledge and technologies.  My experience working with people in continuing education courses and workforce training programs shows a deeply-held optimism about investing in skills and career pathways.

In “The Mosaic Economy” my focus is on leading a gentle, inviting conversation. Many economic analysis are full of urgent “ought-to” messages, leaving audiences and readers feeling somewhat drained and powerless. I want people to feel empowered as they read.  Readers should be creatively empowered to “add to” the story of the mosaic and personally empowered to take small positive steps to build their own careers, support others in their career development, or know that they can have a positive impact on the economic development of their communities.

Read more in the book and watch this blog for excerpts from the book.

Link to The Mosaic Economy (ebook) on Amazon
Link to The Mosaic Economy (paperback) through Harvard Bookstore

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