Jeremy Rifkin is the author of 13 books on the impact of technological changes on the economy, workforce, society and the environment. His most recent book, "The End of Work: Technology, Jobs and Your Future," is the result of a three-year study of changing conditions and the nature of work in the Information Age. His books have been translated into 15 languages and are used in hundreds of colleges and graduate schools around the world. He has also lectured and been a resident scholar at more than 300 universities in some 10 countries over the past 25 years. He has been influential is shaping public policy in the United States and around the world, and he is founder and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends located in Washington, D.C. Rifkin was interviewed by Government Technology Editor-at-Large Blake Harris.
GT: A great many people around the world, including heads of state, are paying a great deal of attention to what you are saying on the issue of work and unemployment in the Information Age. Yet America, the country on which much of your analysis seems to be based, is one country where unemployment appears to be on the decrease.
Rifkin: The president was re-elected and he said, "I created a million good new jobs. Follow my lead into the 21st century. We are building the bridge for the next generation." But as I travel across the United States, the number one issue on the minds of every family is: "Will there be a place for me? Will my labor be valued in this new global economy? What about my children in the next century?" Half the American people did not vote in this current election, the lowest voter turnout since 1924. Perhaps it is because the two major political parties in America have steadfastly ignored the number one issue on the minds of voters -- jobs.
The president says we have 5.4 percent unemployment, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't tell about the millions and millions of American workers who have given up. They have stopped looking. If you give up, if you stop looking, you are not counted. We call them "the missing men." They are almost all men -- six million, no longer working and not counted as unemployed.
In addition, these statistics do not tell about the millions of American workers who had full-time jobs before the last recession, but who are now on what I call "just in time" employment. They are temporary, they are leased workers. They are on outsource and contract work. They are freelancing. If you work a few hours a month, you are considered employed. When you add up the real unemployment figures in the United States, they hover at 13.5 percent of the adult work force -- comparable to Germany.
The U.S. Census Bureau report has just put out the income distribution figure for our country and we have the greatest disparity in income distribution in the U.S. since 1945. We are second to last of all countries in the industrial world on income distribution. Twenty-four percent of our youngsters are below the poverty level, the worst country in the industrial world, with the exception of Russia. Is this the bridge to the 21st century?
GT: In your recent book, "The End of Work," you suggest that high unemployment -- much higher levels than we currently face -- will be a direct result of new technologies. Can you briefly explain the case you make?
Rifkin: We are on the cusp of a great transition in the nature of commerce and work. We are moving out of the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. Sophisticated computers, telecommunication technology, robots and other intelligent machines are replacing traditional job categories.
If you are a secretary or file clerk, if you