Automation: The Real Killer of American Jobs – Part 2.

Part 2 of a 2 part series for the Good Men Project.

In Part 1 I stated that the real job killer of American manufacturing is robots, not the Chinese or Mexicans. Manufacturing is a good starting point to look at the impact of technology because manufacturing accounts for 12.5% of total U.S. GDP and nearly 9% of U.S. employment according to the most recent report from the Economic Policy Institute.

As innovation in automation and technology continue to develop, robotics will become cheaper, artificial intelligence will improve, and more sectors of our economy will experience similar transformations to those in manufacturing. A well-cited study from Oxford University analyzed how technology will affect the future of employment. The study found that 47% of all U.S. employment is at risk of being replaced due to technology.

Construction and Transportation are two of the largest industries that could be the next dominoes to fall to automation. Construction employs over 2 million Americans, while transportation employs 3 million. Both of these industries employ over 90% male workers and provide above average wages for workers without degrees or specific trade skills.

Uber’s self-driving freight truck and the Hadrian robotics system are two examples of recent technological leaps in transportation and construction. Far from just science fiction concepts, Uber and Fastbrick Robotics, manufacturer of the Hadrian, have already unveiled their self-driving semi truck and brick laying robot and plan to release them into the work force as early as this year.

A follow up Oxford University study showed which U.S. cities would be most and least impacted by automation. Out of the 11 cities that will be most affected by automation 7 were in rust belt states while out of the 11 to be least affected 8 were in Eastern or Western coastal states. It also stated that North America has the most to gain from automation, while China has the most to lose. Technology may entice companies to move factories back home, but that does not necessarily mean jobs for humans will follow.

While Trump pandered to the regions of the country most vulnerable to the changing economic landscape, I have yet to hear Trump put forth actual, tangible solutions to the difficulties technology has created. I have not heard anything more than grandiose, abstract claims about bringing jobs back to American shores.

What American workers need are policies that allow them to better compete in a changing global economy.

Where are the calls for job retraining programs for those workers replaced by technology? Better yet, will Trump protect workers, wages and unions? He recently nominated Andrew Puzder for labor secretary. Puzder is a fast food executive who has been outspoken against raising the minimum wage, and in March told Business Insider that he was actively investing in automation technology for the restaurant industry. That is a position contrary to the message of creating, and I fear the nomination will leave workers with fewer resources and advocates at the national level.

One of the safest ways to raise the quality of life and qualifications of the workforce is to invest in education. While automation is inevitable, humans will still need to research, develop, design, and manage those machines. Jobs will certainly be created by technology. Investment in all levels of education, making college affordable for more Americans, and investing in job retraining programs are policies that benefit everyone, and possibly the only way Trump can deliver on his campaign promise.

His message sounded good on the campaign trail, but it is not entirely practical or possible. What the working class people, the citizens in the rust belt, and all of America need to hear are Trump’s plans for investing in the future of the American work force and how he will protect workers and wages.

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