Opinion: Workers will simply try to survive, rather than prosper, as tech takes over the economy
For most people, a secure, well-paid job is the difference between a reasonable life and penury. Today, changes in the structure of the work force driven by globalization and technology make this objective increasingly elusive.
Technology has exacerbated declines in employment and incomes by eliminating tasks and “de-skilling” many jobs.
Robotics and complex computerized equipment has successfully replaced skilled labor. Computer software is now replacing journalists, synthesizing news items electronically by crawling the internet. Even traders in financial markets are being replaced by automated algorithms.
In the late-20th century, global supply chains allowed lower-paid workers to displace expensive counterparts in more developed countries. Initially, this occurred in manufacturing industries requiring limited skills. Over time, it encompassed more skilled jobs, spreading to services and professional work.
While there are well-paid jobs for a small portion of the workforce with the required skills, the vast majority of new employment is in the low-paid service sector.
Communications, which allowed cheap real-time transmission of voice as well as near-instantaneous transfers of vast amounts of data and increasingly high-definition images, initially facilitated the relocation of production. Increasingly, it allows relocation of services such as engineering, architectural, accounting or legal services and even medical procedures.
In combination with remote command-and-control technology, originally developed for military applications, it is now possible to control highly automated production lines and even mines from distant sites.
Those changes affect incomes and the availability of jobs. U.S. median earnings have not increased since 1975 in real terms. Average real Japanese and German household incomes have been stagnant for more than a decade. U.K. factory incomes haven’t risen since the late-1970s, after adjusting for inflation.
All workers, irrespective of profession and skill, now face what John Maynard Keynes called “technological unemployment.” A much-cited research study by Oxford University found that 47% of all employment (80 million jobs in the U.S. and 15 million in the U.K.) are threatened by automation.
A common assumption was that new jobs in new industries would take up displaced workers. Unfortunately, the reality has been different.
The number of people employed in technology has remained modest, around 5% to 6% of the workforce. By one estimate, only 0.5% of the U.S. labor force is employed in industries that did not exist in 2000. In Silicon Valley, only 1.8% of workers are employed in new industries.
One reason is that many new industries are not labor-intensive, and when they are, the tasks are outsourced to the cheapest supplier in the world. A leading technology company like Google GOOG, +1.72% has only around 60,000 employees worldwide.
Many of those subject to “involuntary separation” (the Orwellian term for losing your job) are unlikely to find new employment. Textile or assembly-line workers are unlikely to reinvent themselves as knowledge workers, technologists, bio-engineers, financiers or other professionals.
Education is not a guarantee of employment. The cost of training has risen sharply, leaving many individuals with substantial student debt. Many new graduates are unable to obtain work in their selected areas, and starting incomes are around 10% to 12% lower than they were five years ago, compounding the problem of higher and increasing student debt.
Their $2,250-a-month “junior one-bedroom,” overlooking the bustling bar and restaurant scene along 14th Street NW, is “massive” at 500 square feet, says manager Jason Tremblay, grinning. That’s because the smallest of The Harper’s 144 units are practically shoeboxes at 350 square feet.
A mile away, on 17th Street NW, in Adams Morgan, Meaghan Wolff, 37, bought a condo in July in the new Moda 17 building — $304,000 for about 400 square feet
One unit in the building is 630 square feet and priced at $549,000, he says. Of the other 44 condos, the smallest, costing $229,000, is 275 square feet.
After paying $2,500 a month for a normal-size one-bedroom apartment in the high-rise Capitol View on Fourteenth building, a half-mile away, Wolff moved to Moda 17 after it opened this year because she wanted to accumulate equity.
“Sometimes I have a hard time with it,” she says. “Because I’m 37, and I think, ‘Why am I this old and still living in such a small space?’ That’s not supposed to happen.
Mon 27 May 2019 AAGB/US- Holiday Tue 28 May 2019 A 14:00 US- Consumer Confidence C 13:00 US- Case-Shiller Wed 29 May 2019 A 08:55 DE- Employment AA 18:00 US- BOC Decision A 18:30 US- EIA Crude Thu 30 Mar 2019 AAEZ/CH- Holiday A 12:30 US- Weekly Jobless Fri 31 Mar 2019 AA 10:00 EZ- Flash HICP A 12:30 US- Personal Income, Spending, Deflator AA 14:00 US- Final Univ of Michigan
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