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Facts: Yes, Robots Take Jobs and Lower Wages

Asian Robotics Review

Now we know! Pre-COVID (2008-2017) “robot intensity” doubled in U.S., took jobs and lowered wages. Post-COVID, joblessness may accelerate, in a hurry.

“One more robot per thousand workers reduces the aggregate employment-to-population ratio by about 0.20 percentage points, which is equivalent to one new robot lowering employment by approximately 3.3 workers. With respect to wages, one more robot per thousand workers reduces wages by 0.37 percent.” —Robots at Work

That bears repeating: 1 robot lowers employment by 3.3 workers. Robots in the U.S. have doubled since 2009. Do the math; this is serious. Automation is inevitable; retraining and reskilling need to be just as inevitable.

“1 robot lowers employment by 3.3 workers”

Terrible as these times are now, COVID has an endgame in sight: vaccine. We’ll all soon enough get vaccinated, after which the masks and Plexiglas and worry over plague will all disappear. However, in the uncertain aftermath of post-COVID, a return to worry over joblessness will quickly return, take hold and linger.

A good indicator of the future direction for jobs, robots and wages post-COVID is The Century Foundation’s report, How Robots Are Beginning to Affect Workers and Their Wages, which tracked the inroads of robots and automation during the Great Recession (2008-2017).

Because robots-stealing-jobs stories are so numerous and get such wild reactions, we checked with Media Bias Fact Check on The Century Foundation’s research and reportage. Here’s what MBFC reported:

Media Bias Fact Check has The Century Foundation highly rated but a bit left of center in reporting the facts. “Overall, we rate The Century Foundation Left-Center Biased based on advocacy for progressive issues. We also rate them High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and a clean fact check record.”

Plus, the research authors, William Rodgers III and Richard Freeman, are superb. The Century Foundation has thus produced a factual and very worthwhile research report.

We’ll share some of the facts that were uncovered.

No Vaccine for Automation

We’ll soon find out that while we were occupied with other, graver concerns, automation, robots, and robotic process automation will have dug themselves more deeply into everyone’s workplace and workday.

Sadly, lots of people will not have a workplace or workday waiting for them. Automation will have replaced them.

COVID has accelerated digital transformation. Timelines that were 4 to 5 years off have now shrunk to 6 to 12 months.

Businesses large and small will have learned the hard way that automation is the best hedge against work disruptions from lockdowns and social distancing.  The rallying cry for business will be: “Never again!”

And those businesses will be right to automate ASAP. However, that rallying cry will be the logical excuse that will mask the disappearance of jobs at a pace no one is prepared to accept. Job losses that might be truly mind-boggling.

To a lesser or greater degree, every industrialized country will experience the near-identical symptoms; and we’ll all collectively find out in a hurry that there is no vaccine for automation.

Rather, herd immunity through retraining and reskilling might be the best remedy.

The reality seems to be that industrial robots and cobots are going to take lots of jobs, but far fewer jobs than expected.  Then too, industrial robots and cobots are going to create a lot of jobs, but again, far fewer jobs than expected. In the middle is the great mass called the rest of us.

As a result of the 2008 recession, the U.S. shed 1.6 million manufacturing jobs requiring just a high-school diploma; only 200,000 returned. [That’s 1.4 million who never returned to their former jobs]

This time around, the U.S. has idled 25 million jobs; and this time around automation won’t just target manufacturing, everything is at risk.

About 40 percent of the current jobless number is going to be permanent,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University. “Looking through history at previous recessions, often these temporary layoffs unfortunately turn out to be permanent.”

That’s 10 million jobs!

To the jobless, squeezed out of the workforce through no fault of their own, their plight may seem like the incessant winds of the U.S. Dust Bowl (1930-1936), which blew for years on end, hurling huge tracts of Oklahoma grasslands onto the windows of parked cars on Michigan Avenue, 700 miles away. The Dust Bowl misery of farmer Tom Joad and his migrant family may be revisited upon those left behind post-COVID.

Read the full story on Asian Robotics Review

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