Asked when Americans could expect jobs outsourced to other countries to return, President Obama replied, “Not all of these jobs are going to come back … And it probably wouldn’t be good for our economy for a bunch of these jobs to come back because, frankly, there’s no way that people could be getting paid a living wage on some of these jobs — at least in order to be competitive in an international setting.”
If you view the world economy as a zero-sum game, this is grim news — if each nation’s economy is a bucket of water, and you only fill one by emptying another, we seem to be running dry pretty fast. Fortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes jobs slosh out of one bucket into another, but other times, to totally belabor a metaphor, some entrepreneurial genius adds fresh water to several buckets at once. We may not yet be at the next wave of entrepreneurship (but remember, both Apple and Microsoft were launched in the wake of the ’70s oil crisis), but even as waves of layoffs make national headlines, jobs are sloshing back into our bucket as companies around the world are outsourcing to United States professionals.
America’s national myth is cowboys, pioneers, revolutionaries — not couchbound whiners. Displaced U.S. workers are not idly waiting for their old jobs to magically return. An oDesk survey found that of its 70,000+ U.S.-based contractors, 32 percent had taken up freelancing after recently losing a job.
These Americans are adapting to today’s market needs. For example, just 20 years ago, graphic artists and designers competed for a tiny pool of newspaper and magazine jobs. Today, those same newspapers are tottering or failing. But the web is increasingly offering opportunities for freelance designers, opportunities that can come from anywhere in the world. Similarly, opportunities for freelance writers are on the rise, as businesses need compelling content for their websites, blogs, sales material, help content and even Twitter accounts.
We agree with President Obama that new skills will serve Americans well as the world continues to evolve. So will new thinking about opportunities, work environments, and the way we apply ourselves. Flexible thinking, entrepreneurialism and a diehard work ethic have made America what it is today, and while specific jobs come and go, these qualities endure.