A majority of people in the modern world are absorbed in performing their daily work, conceived in terms of jobs, money, food, and other things practical and economic. Would it have been different for the Nephites or Lamanites? Not really. The center of their daily concerns, too, was "making a living." But what that meant differed greatly from what we mean by the expression.
We read that, among the Nephites, "the men [did] till the ground, and raise all manner of grain and . . . fruit." Meanwhile, the women did "spin, and toil, and . . . work all manner of . . . cloth of every kind." By dint of such labor, the Nephites "did prosper in the land" (Mosiah 10:4, 5).
In Book of Mormon times, an agrarian life was crucial to a satisfactory society. When grain was insufficient, famine prevailed (see Alma 3:2; 4:2; Helaman 11:5-6; 3 Nephi 4:3, 6). Most people farmed. Yet nothing in the book suggests that the people prepared or cultivated the land using anything other than their own hands. Although "flocks and herds" were kept, it seems that they were used mainly for food (see, for example, 3 Nephi 3:22; 4:4).
The farmers had to produce in order to feed and clothe their families as well as the "thousands . . . , yea, and tens of thousands, who [did] sit in idleness" (Alma 60:22). The latter group no doubt consisted of priests, record keepers, architects, merchants, artists, and judges, who all seemed idle compared with the hardworking farmers who were the ideal (exemplified by King Benjamin, who "labored with [his] own hands," Mosiah 2:14). Then there were the elite at the pinnacle of social, political, and economic power who demanded support. For example, King Noah taxed his Zeniffite subjects to provide sustenance for the elite (see Mosiah 11:3-8; also Mosiah 7:22; Alma 60:21-22; 3 Nephi 6:10-12). But the economic system also supported a variety of respected craft workers, such as "curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it" (Helaman 6:11).
An economic surplus stimulated trade, and it made at least some people rich (see Mosiah 24:7; Helaman 3:10; 6:7-8). Furthermore, certain regions were more productive than others: central Zarahemla had to supply the Nephite army in the southwest quarter of the land, for instance (see Alma 57:6; 58:4, 7), and the land of Melek was a food exporter (see Alma 62:29).
While hunting may have been an idealized traditional activity among the Lamanites, at least according to their biased Nephite neighbors (as in Enos 1:20), the high population level that the Lamanites reached, reflected in the size of their armies, cannot be accounted for except on the basis of settled agrarian living. Most Lamanite commoners must have been farmers too.
With all of this daily labor, ancient life did not provide "jobs," designated economic roles that let men predictably go to work to earn a living. We can be sure that 95 percent of the Nephites and Lamanites, like people in the rest of the ancient world, simply toiled daily at the hard work in front of them without the complex structure of specialized "jobs" or "careers" that organizes the lives of many of us today. ! --adapted from John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Map (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 88-89