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Adjusting Our Lives

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Significant changes are taking place in the distribution of occupational opportunities. The relative oversupply of workers in many occupations has assumed tragic proportions. And yet, despite this sad fact, it would be a rash statement indeed to assert that we live in a period marked with an excess production of occupational abilities the way the cotton, wheat or machinery market is overglutted. In the remote recesses of our social scene, plenty of budding opportunities for profitable work lurk in the dark.

To get a true picture one has, instead of merely deploring the present situation, to look back over long-term trends and forward toward the prospects of the future.

Little surplus of occupational talent need be expected if the changing trends of opportunity are properly understood, if full information regarding them is disseminated, and the right sort of training and education is provided, so that young people are guided toward the promising fields of work.


In the past six decades, it is interesting to note, there was a vast increase of teachers; from about 120,000 in 1870 to 1,100,000 in 1930. Further, we find a still more rapid rise in the proportions of technical engineers, nurses, draftsmen, musicians, artists, actors, chemists, writers and librarians.

Noticeable is the falling out of use and date of the veterinarian and the relative decline in the traditional learned professions, such as medicine, the ministry and law. Apparently some of the work formerly done by the physician has been handed over to trained nurses; by clergymen, to teachers and social workers; and by lawyers, to clerks or to business specialists.

Again, the “blotting paper” occupations, sales and commercial service, have absorbed many of the displaced workers, the victims of technological progress. Fewer and fewer, year by year, are engaged in farming, mining and manufacturing, and more and more in sales and service.


Now, experts in vocational rehabilitation feel that, no matter what happens industrially, with the machine keeping on displacing men, distribution of goods will come to play a major part in the economic process of tomorrow. It is immaterial whether this distribution will be effected by government bureaus or by semi-public agencies or by industry itself, but distribution will have to be engaged in on a much larger scale, and in other ways, than in our own gloomy day.

Of course, white collar workers will have to have a goodly share in it. Hours will undoubtedly be shorter and wage scales rearranged, but re-employment of the involuntarily idle commercial workers, now in a bitter plight, must follow.

Technological developments, no doubt, occurred in these fields as well as in the purely mechanical jobs. Accordingly the unemployed, or the employed, office worker can meet the new industrial needs by mastering the business machines that are displacing the bookkeeper, the billing clerk, the stenographer, and many others.

Truth to tell, the future is always a fairyland to the hopeful, while the present is painful, but vocational rehabilitation is a long-term process and not an immediate emergency procedure like relief.


The worker has less hard labor today, since the machine is there to do all the dull and dirty work. To compensate for this advantage, however, in factory, office and store, he works at an increased tempo, which in itself brings a very definite strain. This trend toward more efficient and exhausting work will continue.

There is another equally important consequence of industrial evolution. The number of opportunities has been growing in many occupations, such as managing, selling, nursing, teaching, and social work, in which effectiveness in personal relations is indispensable. To be sure, many of these “social” occupations are at the present time overcrowded.

But when all is said, there is more unemployment and hardship among skilled craftsmen in the building trades, in the metal trades, printing and all the other crafts than among dentists and doctors, beauticians, waiters, boy scout executives, trained social workers and other people whose business it is to minister to some sort of personal need, for health, for education or travel, for religion or, in a word, for sociability rather than for tangible and interchangeable things.


As an authoritative student of the problem, Dr. W. V. Bingham, sees it, we shall continue to find increasing opportunities for work with people: serving their wants, supervising their joint efforts, getting their hearty cooperation, managing them, persuading them, instructing them, helping them in one way or another.

The education of the future must provide, then, a kind of training to develop proficiency in the best ways of living and working together.

Signs of probable increase in demand are shown, for that matter, by a wide range of “service occupations” such as hotel, restaurant and tearoom work, hair dressing and manicuring, child nursing and nursery school work, managing homes and estates, reconditioning of clothing, and the like.

Again, society is assuming more and more responsibility for the individual, and apace with this a greater demand for social workers is inevitable. Both social work and medicine, let us remember, will more likely than not undergo socialization. Private philanthropic agencies, even after centralization of effort, find it increasingly difficult to cope with the growing burden of social dependency and unemployment.

All branches of trained social work and public nursing belong, therefore, to a group of occupations that will show an upward trend.

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