With the closing of the Chicago futures trading pit comes an end to a lucrative type of career that did not require a college degree.
Open-outcry futures trading, a profession that took root here in the mid-19th century, becoming part of the city’s identity and influencing trading systems around the world, is going extinct. Most of the futures pits inside the Chicago Board of Trade building, an Art Deco tower that looms over downtown’s LaSalle Street, are scheduled to close by July after being choked by a decade of technological advancement that has made face-to-face trading largely obsolete.
A college degree was not required for this white collar job.
Perhaps even more significant for Chicago is the disappearance of a career path that for over 150 years allowed scrappy teenagers and former high school athletes to hustle their way to wealth, or at least excitement. Futures trading — as distinguished from options trading, its more cerebral relative — was for many years a way for those with a blue-collar background to enter the white-collar world.
“It’s no longer a way for a working-class guy with street smarts and a huge native intelligence to make a lot of money,” said Caitlin Zaloom, a cultural anthropologist at New York University who has studied futures pits. “It’s now the domain of the kinds of technical specialists who are really winners in other parts of the economy as well.”
Another case of technological advancements destroying jobs, a process repeated throughout history. But with the jobless recovery still a problem, it remains to be seen if replacement jobs for former traders and similar displaced workers will still provide a middle class living.