Coronavirus mutations are outflanking us, mutating through the bodies of unvaccinated people, sending us into the never-ending narrative of a forever global virus pandemic. Then there’s the non-medical collateral damage from the pandemic. Jobs were lost, but there’s the puzzling economic disconnect of more job openings than there are unemployed, foreshadowing a seismic shift in labor dynamics.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that, “Several factors are behind the development: Many workers moved during the pandemic and aren’t where jobs are available; many have changed their preferences, for instance pursuing remote work, having discovered the benefits of life with no commute; the economy itself shifted, leading to jobs in industries such as warehousing that aren’t in places where workers live or suit the skills they have; extended unemployment benefits and relief checks, meantime, are giving workers time to be choosy in their search for the next job.”
Hinge as a metaphor is a turning point. A hinge has three parts that together change the direction of motion and in this case change the direction of behaviors, endeavors and industry. The pandemic is one part. The Internet is another. And climate change is the existential component of the pivot in the hinge.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association has reported that 500,000 jobs were lost during the pandemic and likely will never return. Ohio’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a million jobs in leisure and hospitality in the state, down 210,000 from a year ago. The CEO of Kastle Systems, a large national property security service company, said about asking employees to come back to work, “People are already saying, ‘You want me back? I quit.”
The Internet of things is a major piece of the hinge. Remote learning and remote work, the explosion of social media, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, Chinese and Russian hacking and theft of American trade secrets, and ransomware are all symptoms of the mutable digital platform that this hinge pivots on.
In addition to the frustrating labor shortages many businesses are experiencing during this never-ending pandemic, the cold war between America’s two political parties has been described by WSJ columnist Gerald Seib as turning the business community into a political orphan while taking its biggest lumps from a transforming Republican party that is increasingly critical of big businesses.
The trending shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, along with increasing demands for remote working opportunities, and the lessening demand for leisure and hospitality employment — these new revelations have contributed to mindsets that say it’s time to leave low paying and daisy-chained jobs to make a decent living and change into careers that bode well into what’s expected of the future.
Climate change is a simultaneous factor in this hinged period of inflection. The western U.S. is in unprecedented weather, burning up again like western Australia while water resources in the region are dissipating at a frightening rate. Similar existential climate issues are confronting China (heat and flooding), Australia (heat), Africa (heat and arable land) and Europe (heat and flooding).
Climate, health concerns, food security, employment opportunities, and as reprieve from injustices and war, all these are contributing factors to increased global migrations of people, and just from Syria The BBC noted last week that a “Record 430 migrants crossed the English Channel in a single day” (and) “Already this year nearly 8,000 people have reached the UK in about 345 boats.” This isn’t just Africa to Greece and Italy or Central America to the U.S. It’s happening all over the globe.
The CIA Factbook estimates that 281 million international migrants, or 3.5 percent of the world’s population, moved last year as a consequence of conflict, violence, work and climate change, and that 80 percent of refugees and asylum seekers live in low or middle income countries. According to Reuters Media, the current U.S. administration has in fiscal year 2021 arrested over one million illegal immigrants from Central America.
The CIA Factbook also notes that, “Since 1970 the number of people living in a country other than where they were born has tripled.” I suspect that this trajectory will only increase to an unknown apogee as climate changes force more migrants to search for safer, healthier places to live.
Again, there are three parts to a hinge. If we are indeed at an historical hinge point, which I suspect we are, it’s not implausible to suggest that one part might be the implacable surge of viral epidemics as part and parcel of an increasingly dense global demographic. The second might be the burgeoning environment of artificial intelligence, the Internet and digital technology, replete with ever-changing and mind-boggling opportunity, albeit an environment that can’t figure out how to be accountable for truth over misinformation, or how to stem its use for theft and other fraudulent and criminal activity. And third may be the existential threat of climate change that unless we can mitigate its effects, it could change our planet forever, and trigger massive global migrations from poor countries to developed countries.
This hinge moment in history reminds me of the phrase, “Beware of not seeing the forest for the trees.” The expression admonishes us not to get so involved with the in-the-moment minutia of our daily lives, not to see what is happening to us with perspective, on the bigger screen.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.