The Pace of Progress

My first job at 14 years old was working at a family-owned franchise root beer and burger stand. Stewart’s Root Beer was iconic at the Jersey shore. It was a 50’s style drive-in.

When you started at Stewart’s, you were stationed at the fryers. It was the lowest job on the totem pole. You had to endure the hot (un-airconditioned) kitchen for long shifts in front of the fryers. I remember my face, hair, and white uniform and apron was filled with grease when I left for home after those long shifts. Disgusting.

But that part-time job, even at minimum wage ($2/hr), paid for a full year’s tuition at the local Catholic High School. I saved all summer, and was able to pay for my tuition and a 10-speed bike.

Of course, in those days social mobility existed, and kids like me knew Stewart’s wasn’t a career. It was an entrée into the workforce. Almost all the kids I knew took part-time jobs. Many of them worked on the Seaside boardwalk.

I am conflicted about this pace of progress. Spending my career in technology adds more weight to my angst. Experts predict 80% of today’s restaurant workers will be replaced by robots.

According to recent data, the majority of fast-food workers are women. And the average age is not 14; it’s 28. There are three and a half million people employed in fast food restaurants.

Now, in my golden years, I make no excuse for taking full advantage of my in-home robot services (Siri, Alexa) to turn on my lights, play my podcasts, tell me the news, and create my grocery list.

Acknowledging that technology and globalization are the fundamental drivers for income inequality, I do find myself wondering (worrying about) what will happen to those at the bottom of the income scale who have no social mobility options.