Here's the real job killer

In the semi-euphoria over the declining jobless rate, one nagging statistic persists: Labor-force participation in the job market continues to slide.

Since the Great Recession began in 2008, 7 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force, and these individuals are not counted among the unemployed in the lower unemployment rate. Demographic factors explain about a third of the declining labor force participation (going back to school, early retirement, etc.) but the remaining number of unemployed-but-not-seeking-work remains alarming.

Republicans and Democrats fire poison-tipped arrows across the aisle, blaming each other for this state of affairs, but the real truth about the lack of jobs likely rests in a new historic shift in the way American economy is changing.

The fact is that many American jobs are disappearing forever, the by-product of the new economic leadership of the United States in the world of technology, the new Smart Age. Want proof? Take a look at some of the American companies of the past, and see where they are now.

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Let's start with Kodak. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Kodak employed 147,000 people in 1997, and these were mostly middle-class jobs. Gone. Facebook, which publishes more pictures than Kodak ever dreamed of, has only 8,000 employees. Remember Blockbuster? In 2005, it had 60,000 employees. Gone. That company was arguably replaced by Netflix, which employees 2,000 people. Twitter, a company with a market value of $24 billion, has 3,600 employees.

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The economics of this transforming society also bear scrutiny. Google has 52,000 employees and a market value of $370 billion. John Deere, with 67,000 employees, has a market value of $32 billion. Thus, Deere has more employees than Google but is worth one tenth as much.

These changes in the American economy have deep economic and social consequences. We are now entering the Smart Age, where the United States is the clear leader. But at what cost? When you look at the soaring market value of companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix and their low number of employees, the widening income gap in America becomes easier to explain. But what about all those employees whose jobs have been lost never to be regained?

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There's good news and bad. So far as the United States is concerned, whereas the U.S. was once the leading industrial company in the world, we have now become the world leader of the Smart Age which began in the 21st century. Apple is by far the most valuable company in the world and is the quintessential American company, and American leadership dominates the new economy with names like the ones we mentioned earlier among many others.

What about the employees who have been left by the wayside? One of the side effects of the Smart Age is that today much work can be done from home. And that is precisely what many unemployed Americans are now doing. Here's a noteworthy example: according to eBay's former CEO, Meg Whitman, 1.5 million Americans make a living selling stuff on eBay! Interestingly, one positive effect of The Affordable Care Act(Obamacare) is that it enables Americans to work at home, part-time, and not worry about being able to afford health coverage.

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What does this mean for you and me? We are living through a major transformation of labor in the new Smart Age. The old 40-hour week may still be around, but many Americans will opt out of it for a new working lifestyle of variable hours, more independence, and no long commutes. So the old jobs may be gone forever, but the new Smart Age may portend a new, more satisfying work experience for many Americans and force a major reexamination of the political, social, and investment implications of this new way of working.

Commentary by Peter J.Tanous, chairman of Lynx Investment Advisory in Washington, DC. He is also the co-author with Jeff Cox of Debt, Deficits, and the Demise of the American Economy. Follow him on Twitter @petelx60.

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