C3PO Vs. The American Workforce

But one contributor to the steady loss of well-paying American jobs cannot be overlooked: automation. There is a great deal of controversy among politicians and economists as to whether outsourcing or automation is more responsible for the steady decline of good-paying manufacturing jobs, but it cannot be denied that both have had a significant impact.

Technological improvements dating back to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s caused job losses even then. Automation, of course, has been around for decades, and was first seen replacing workers in the automobile industry.

But in the last few years, as technology has evolved exponentially, even white-collar jobs are now at risk. According to two professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), such powerful new technologies as cognitive computing (think IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning Watson) are displacing workers in the fields of law, financial services, education and medicine. They contend that rapid technological change is destroying jobs faster than they can be created, particularly in the field of robotics.

Forbes magazine estimates that America needs 5 million fewer workers today than it did in December 2007, a loss it attributes largely to automation. Name a job that your parents did to put themselves through college, or even to support a family for a lifetime, and chances are it’s either gone or will be soon. Taxi driver? Look out for driverless cars. Truck driver? Amazon’s using delivery drones. Cashier? Bank teller? Librarian?

When was the last time you called any large company and found a human on the other end of the line without pressing an endless stream of numbers first? Receptionists. Telephone operators. Travel agents. Copy editors. Researchers. The list is almost endless, and frightening.

When the film “Star Wars” came out in 1977, audiences delighted at the antics of the robots R2D2 and C3PO, little realizing that they were looking at their own very near future.

The problem with automation is that it exacerbates the well-known and growing gap between the so-called “one percent” and everyone else. Why? Take Bill Gates. He popularized the personal computer. In doing so, he put countless typists out of work, to cite just one example of resultant job losses from that technological innovation. Before the PC, every mid- to large-size company had a typing pool of anywhere from two to several dozen employees. So then those typists had to find other work, probably for much less money, and Bill Gates became worth billions. Or take Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin also made billions, and researchers and librarians all across the country were out of jobs.

And this is more and more what the future holds. A tiny group of inventors and popularizers will become wealthy; a much smaller group of highly trained and highly educated technicians and computer programmers who support the new technology will do all right.

What’s going to be left? Such service jobs as hair stylist, masseuse and elder caregivers. Pretty soon, there won’t be much else available.

Technology is wonderful when it works. But in life, every upside has a downside. And in this case, the downside is the loss of jobs for those who thought their career would last for their lifetime.

What’s the solution? We’ll explore possible approaches in a future blog. Meanwhile, be sure to let Billshark help you hang on to every dollar you can.

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