As the labour market recovers, two deeper shifts are unfolding, in politics and in technology. Start with the political environment, which is becoming friendlier to workers than it has been for decades. An early sign of change was the surge in minimum wages during the previous economic cycle. Relative to average wages, they rose by more than a quarter in the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, weighted by population. Now governments and institutions are falling over themselves to chum up to workers. President Joe Biden hopes to use his planned infrastructure splurge to promote unionisation and to pay generous wages. Central banks are worrying ever more about jobs and less about inflation. It was not a prank when on April 1st the IMF, once famed for its austerity, floated the idea of one-off solidarity taxes on the rich and on companies. In his letter to shareholders this week, Jamie Dimon, the boss of JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street’s biggest firm, called for higher wages—and he wasn’t talking about CEOs.
The second big shift in the labour market is technological. In the pandemic doomsayers have doubled down on predictions of long-term labour-market woes. Robots will create armies of the idle, precarious jobs are displacing stable ones and even prosperous workers chained to emails and screens know in their hearts that their “bullshit jobs” are pointless. But as our special report this week explains, these ideas were never supported by evidence and do not look as if they are about to be now. In 2019 nearly two-thirds of Americans said they were completely satisfied with their job security, up from less than half in 1999; a lower share of German workers felt insecure than in the mid-2000s. Countries with the most automation, like Japan, enjoy some of the lowest unemployment.