Two pieces this week offered a fascinating look into the future of American jobs. The Times profiled Jon Steinsson and Emi Nakamura, two up-and-coming economists who have taken “hiring help” to the extreme. In an effort to maximize the time they spend on tasks essential to their career, Steinsson and Nakamura, a couple, outsource many duties, chores, and activities to third parties:
Last year, the couple hired a personal chef. She drops off five healthful meals at the beginning of every week to reduce the time they spend cooking (they used to cook recreationally; now they’d rather spend that time with their son). They have also paid people to: build Ikea furniture for them (even though the service often costs more than the furniture itself); teach them how to use software programs and baby carriers; and load their CD collection onto their computers.
Steinsson and Nakamura aren’t the only ones looking to employ people in service jobs. While they seem to pay people for one-off tasks or on a part-time basis, the WSJ reports that demand for full-time live-in domestic help is growing rapidly, including for chefs, housekeepers, estate managers, and even maids and butlers. The return of butlers and maids is attention grabbing enough, but the story is full of many other eye-popping details. The pay, for instance, can rise as high as 200,000 dollars thousand a year for a butler, and some agencies say families have begun to build separate kitchens in their houses for the kitchen staff in order to maintain family privacy.These Downton-esque luxuries may seen irrelevant to the wider trends deciding the future of American employment, but in fact they represent the growing class of service jobs that could become a significant part of our economy, especially if we find ways to facilitate the transition to a service-based economy. As manufacturing and clerical jobs decline, creating enough demand for service labor will push wages up to good levels. It is the relationship of supply and demand which is fundamentally behind the stagnant wages we see today. Figuring out how to change that will get living standards moving in the right direction again.[Image of Butler from Shutterstock]