It’s Time to Talk About Job Automation

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

It’s no secret that automation is a consequence of technological advancement. From textile workers in the nineteenth century to modern factory workers, industrialization brings a changing employment landscape. 

This hasn’t been a huge problem in the past, because emerging technologies bring new, better-paid positions that replace the jobs that were lost. The problem we face in the twenty-first century is whether or not this trend will continue.

Streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, have revolutionized the way we watch TV and movies. While these companies utilized technology in a new and clever way, they were also a reason why the massive video-rental franchise Blockbuster closed its doors in 2013. 

Blockbuster employed over 84,000 people in its peak and brought in around $6 billion in revenue. Today, Netflix employs around 5,400 people and it brought in almost $12 billion last year. This gap is incredible; Netflix employs a fraction of what Blockbuster used to and doubles their yearly revenue. 

Although the jobs created by Netflix are higher-paid positions, jobs created by streaming services did not keep up with jobs replaced.

Those working in the transportation industry are likely the most vulnerable to lose their jobs to technology in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1.8 million truck drivers in the United States. 

With several companies are developing driverless semi-trucks, including Uber and Tesla, truck drivers will be at risk for losing their jobs in the coming years.

These technologies are closer than people think. Earlier this year, Uber started using its driverless technology to begin shipments in Arizona. Late last year, Tesla unveiled their driverless semi to the public.

There are also 80,000 taxi drivers and over 200,000 school bus drivers in the United States, all of who will be at risk to losing their jobs to automation within the next decade or two.

We haven’t even talked about the millions of factory workers who are also very likely to be out of work within the next decade or two. And without any politician seriously discussing this topic, our government is completely unprepared to address this alarming issue.

A report by McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 30 percent of “work activities” have the potential to be automated by 2030 and up to 375 million workers around the world could be affected by new technologies.

A study by Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne found that as many as 47% of workers in the US have a high probability of having their job automated within the next two decades.

Job losses of this scale would be catastrophic. Unless new jobs are being created at, or near, the same pace as they are being automated, the future of American politics will be chaotic and involve radical change. 

Although technological advancement and job automation aren’t necessarily bad, our lack of discussion on how to address the issues of unemployment as a consequence of job automation certainly is. 

During the 2016 election cycle, the issue of job automation wasn’t brought up even once during presidential debates. Politicians traditionally turn to the export of jobs and trade as the fundamental issues of the labor market.

It’s rare to hear a political candidate discuss job automation and the influence technologies, like artificial intelligence, will have on our economy. It is more important than ever to begin discussing solutions before it’s too late. In the next decade, or two, automation will have a significant impact on our economy and we must be ready.

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