Literally the smartest people in the world think an unprecedented wave of job destruction is coming with the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, software, and automation. My friends in Silicon Valley have read the Second Machine Age and Rise of the Robots and they see a wave coming.
The White House published a report last month that reinforced this view. Some of the headline stats:
- 83% of the jobs where people make less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement.
- Between 9% and 47% of jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological change, with the worst threats falling among the less educated.
- Between 2.2 and 3.1 million car, bus, and truck driving jobs in the US will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.
Read that last sentence again: we’re confident that between two and three million Americans who drive vehicles for a living will lose their jobs in the next fifteen years. Self-driving cars are the most obvious job-destroying technology, but there are similar innovations ahead that will dislocate cashiers, fast food workers, customer service representatives, groundskeepers, and many many others in a few short years. How many of these people will be readily employable elsewhere?
Okay, you’re thinking. But isn’t this all still in the somewhat distant future, since unemployment is only 4.6% according to the headlines? Actually, automation has already eliminated about four million manufacturing jobs in the US since 2000. And instead of finding new jobs, a lot of those people left the workforce and didn’t come back. The US labor force plummeted by about 10 million during the same period, down to levels not seen in decades. The labor participation rate is now at only 62.7%, a rate right below El Salvador and right above the Ukraine.