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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