Money and work in the 2020s

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

If you follow news regarding the economy, you know that the landscape in just about every arena has changed in the past year or two.

Starbucks has (in some locations) become unionized. Amazon workers are moving in that direction.

Capital One, the sixth largest retial banking company in the USA, has suspended overdraft fees. And other financial institutions are certain to follow.

And, in what might be considered consumer credit advice, credit agencies are encouraging parents to “freeze” their children’s credit to protect their accounts (and social security numbers) and keep them safe from credit card fraud and identity theft.

In other words, this is not your father’s, or grandfather’s economy.

But whose economy is it?

History, it has been said, doesn’t repeat, but it does “rhyme”.

History, in other words, won’t mechanically repeat, but trends recur under slightly, if not occasionally dramatically different, circumstances.

Technology, a global economy, renegade weather extremities, labor shortages, cryptocurrencies and of course, a worldwide pandemic have distorted what was already a precarious economy seemingly always under construction.

Factor in fluid interest rates, shifting demographics (like a drop in northern hemisphere birth rates) increasing (if not paralyzing) levels of individual and national debt, and challenges that hit us sideways like our waterways choking on non-biodegradable plastic (the average American tosses about 300 pounds of plastic trash each year), overwhelmed hospitals, schools in unprecedented levels of disarray, all of this, at least in the USA, framed by a level of political polarity, if not outright hostility like we have never seen before.

In short, we have historic and cyclical trends slamming into a range of unforeseen (and unforeseeable) variables.

Challenges and opportunities have always been interwoven, but in our era, and in the years to come, the stakes, personally, nationally and internationally, are vastly higher than they have been, perhaps any time in human history.

Digital fluency – not just digital literacy

Computers, and digital technology in any format or on any scale has redefined how we think about work, money and progress – by any definition.

Money, for example, is never just money.

Money, perhaps like nothing else, represents and embodies security, identity, and, again, perhaps like nothing else, gives us a way to define the past and frame the future.

Aside from the gyrations of the stock market and the effervescence of digital currencies, money, or at least some agreed-upon representation like it, still defines, to a large degree, security and identity.

Digital frameworks and mechanisms (like The Cloud) make finances (among other things) ever more abstract and out of reach.

And sight.

In short, money and value and work bear very little resemblance to what they had been, perhaps ever before in human history.

The Work From Home (WFH) movement has re-framed far more than where people work.

If people can work in any place – and for some – on any schedule – what does “work” even mean?

Does work mean presence (as in being on-site)?


Does work mean being available when other workers are accessible – either online or physically?


Or is work being “productive” at any time or place or pace, no matter what anyone else is doing?


In other words, the universal answer to these multiple – and ever multiplying – choices and challenges is “all of the above”.


Some solutions and arrangements will work some of the time. And almost nothing will work all of the time.

And what worked, or at least seemed to, for multiple generations before us, as in what was called a “stable career” with well-defined steps toward ever-upward mobility is somewhere in a museum exhibit with other artifacts of life from the Pleistocene era.

What did you really want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, I always hated that question.

And every adult from a stray aunt to a nosy neighbor seemed to ask it of me at every opportunity.

I hemmed and hawed and did my best to say what those pesky adults seemed to want to hear, and anything I could make up to get them to move the conversation along – or give me something to eat.

But somehow, even then, I knew that the economic landscape they took for granted would, like a mirage, or the end of a rainbow, disappear as I approached it.

That solid career that they envisioned never presented itself to me.

The good news however, is that I, like many others – in fact virtually every one now, had a fluid grasp on the ONE career and, instead cultivated a sense of career and technological fluidity that, though it stressed and baffled those of my parent’s generation, has served me relatively well.

One career counselor told me years ago that, in essence, we are all self-employed – working for ourselves on a track that we alone can see – or even only see when we look back on it.

As in few times in history, rules and roles are not as they once were.

Guiding principles of work, career development, debt and even ownership (of homes and automobiles for example) no longer hold.

I know young (or even not so young) professionals who will only consider remote work.

And demand the appropriate pay (and benefits).

I heard recently of an employer who called a potential candidate every day for two weeks to cajole him to join the company.

These are just a few of the dynamics of the economy of the 2020s.

Stay tuned for the next action-packed installment.