When robots take routine middle-class jobs, those workers drop out of the workforce

In Disappearing Routine Jobs: Who, How, and Why? economists from USC, UBC and Manchester University document how the automation of "routine" jobs (welders, bank tellers, etc) that pay middle class wages has pushed those workers out of the job market entirely, or pushed them into low-paying, insecure employment.

The study links the phenomenon of unemployment with automation -- an obvious-seeming connection -- by establishing a causal relationship that goes beyond mere correlation: people stop working because robots take their jobs. Robots don't just co-occur with unemployment, they cause it.

The share of Americans working in routine jobs has fallen from 40.5% in 1979 to 31.2% in 2014, according to the paper. The federal government’s official measure of Americans age 16 and over who are working or seeking work has fallen from a recent high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.7% in November 2016.

“Routine jobs are disappearing and more and more prime-age Americans aren’t working,” said Mr. Siu. “These things are two sides of the same coin.”

Disappearing Routine Jobs: Who, How, and Why? [Guido Matias Cortes, Nir Jaimovich and Henry E. Siu/NBER]

(via Marginal Revolution)

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  1. Anybody else ever get the feeling that The Jetsons was setting us up with unrealistic expectations of life in the 21st Century?

  2. We may have automated ourselves out of capitalism. Is it time for a Star Trek economy?

  3. daneel says:

    An average viewer might reasonably believe that this means that the Flintstones are living in the past and the Jetsons in the future, but wouldn't the striking number of similarities instead indicate that the two families are, in fact, living in the same time period? What if instead of a time machine, the families were instead just using some kind of teleportation device that was transporting them from the Earth's surface to the Jetsons home high above the sky? What if the Flintstones are part of an almost slave labor sub-class who is forced to live in substandard conditions to support the frivolous lifestyle of the upper class living in the sky above them?

  4. 'Robots taking human jobs is just fine', shows study by RoboEconomist 6.7

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