Ellen Ruppel Shell is a correspondent for the
Atlantic Monthly, and has written for
The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Time, Discover, Seed, and dozens of other national publications. She is the author, most recently, of
The Hungry Gene, which was published in six languages, and is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Knight Center for Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University.
In a wide-ranging narrative that takes us from a downsized marketing executive in Massachusetts, to a father of three in Appalachia finding purpose and meaning working in a convenience store chain, to an unemployed autoworker retraining in ''advanced manufacturing,'' Shell reveals how work is essential to our flourishing and pyschological well-being-and how so many of the avenues to well-paid and meaningful work will be challenged in the years ahead. The future of work is not being faced openly. We live in a world where the rewards of employment are concentrated in the hands of the few. Today, the top 10 percent of wage earners in the U.S. bring home 9 times the income of the other 90 percent, and the top .01 percent earn 184 times as much. The economic gap between the few and the many is so vast, Shell says, that we might as well be members of a different species. Moreover, since the 1970s, real wages for most of us have stagnated, and with it our purchasing power. Half of all Americans earn less than 30,000 dollars a year. And the paths to landing those good-paying jobs that secure our financial future are disappearing in the wake of automation and the rise of AI.