A lot changed in the world of work in 2016. With a new administration taking office this month and dramatic cultural shifts like increasing momentum on the movements for paid leave and a higher minimum wage, 2017 is sure to be marked by a lot of dramatic changes.
Here are a few of the big issues that will surely bring about anxiety for most American employees, and why the issue remains in flux.
With many politicians (including the incoming president) promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the future of health care coverage remains up in the air. By the end of 2016, 6.4 million people had signed up—most recently there was a surge of more than 400,000 people adding the coverage, reported the New York Times—showing a marked anxiety about the possibility of an ACA repeal. And no one is quite sure how it will be done.
For the millions for Americans who don’t have employer-sponsored health care, the uncertainly of coverage will be a major worry this year.
The Silver Lining: Though much is still unknown about the future of the ACA, the Trump campaign has taken great pains to insist that the changes will not impact people’s current coverage. Most recently, Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that U.S. citizens would not lose coverage under the new program. (She did, however, admit that the plan for the new health care system isn’t cemented yet.)
Over the last few years, a movement has risen trying to raise the minimum wage. While it was gaining traction, it’s unclear with the new presidential administration just how far it will be able to get. President-elect Trump has said he supports a $10/hour minimum wage, but has also remarked that he doesn’t believe there should be a government wage floor. So if the activists trying to bring the hourly wage up were hoping to get backing from the new administration, that now seems highly unlikely.
In 2016 legislation was enacted to make sure people were paid proper overtime. That, however, has recently been overturned by a federal judge in Texas. Putting both of these examples together, it becomes clear that the movement for workers–both salaried and waged–to get better compensation remains in peril.
The Silver Lining: Though fights to get lower-paid workers better compensation may be seeing roadblocks on a federal level, states are continuing to see progress. For example, minimum wage saw a big bump on January 1 of this year in both New York and New Jersey.
Sure, the AI future isn’t going to transform work in a few months, but roles are already beginning to shift. HR, for instance, is becoming more of a software issue than it is a human role—be it for better or for worse. More, technological advances are creating ways for machines to do the jobs that humans once did. Data analysis can be done more or less automatically thanks to machine learning and algorithms. And, as Fast Company’s Jared Lindzon points out, other professions—like those in medicine—are using gadgets like wearables to help assist them. All of these automations are taking away human need where it once was.
The Silver Lining: Although automation seems scary and dystopian, for many industries it brings about better accuracy to the task at hand. Not to mention, these changes happen gradually and not in one fell swoop. So, for the time being, it’s likely going to be software-assisted roles and not machines taking over for humans completely.
Simply getting a permanent job won’t be easy. The freelance economy will continue to grow, with more Americans working contract gigs. For some, this is a good thing—it lets them set their own schedule and do whatever work they want to do on the side. But it also creates anxiety, as the freelance employers aren’t providing benefits or other similar protections to these employees. While many headlines make out the trend of the gig economy to be a good thing, as this type of work continues to rise, it could create an impediment for people looking for a traditional salaried full-time job.
According to one statistic, there were 55 million freelancers in 2016, representing 35% of the U.S. workforce. That’s up from 53.7 million people in 2017. For many, income is gig-based and fluctuates highly based on demand. More, nearly all of theses workers depend on the availability of benefits for non-full-time employees. With changes to health care law on the horizon, this could provide anxiety for those hoping to remain their own boss. But for others who are looking for a full-time gig, the trend seems to be going toward many employers preferring subcontractors.
The Silver Lining: Many of these “sharing economy” companies follow the adage “move fast and break things.” And smaller organizations and governments are the ones working to fix them. With that, city and state governments have spent years trying to properly account for companies like Uber. Seattle, for instance, passed a law last year that allowed for-hire drivers to unionize, paving the way for more gig economy workers to receive more protections.
The work landscape will inevitably change in the coming years. And there will undoubtedly be fights for employees to retain (and hopefully gain) their rights. But struggles are what often lead to greater success. And small organizations fighting to represent the myriad American workforce are what is going to help bring about changes for the better.
As the silver linings show, both governments and individuals are still paving the way for an equitable and healthy workplace. The next few years will be when the real fight begins. But with small victories every day–such as local governments allowing gig workers to unionize or minimum wage laws seeing local bumps across the country–we can expect to see more, similar occurrences in the future.
But, of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done.