Archive for June 21st, 2014

The American middle class is shrinking and it’s technology that’s causing it.
Unfortunately for today’s average worker, finding or inventing a new job is harder than it once was.  When economists look back, they see that it was around 1999 when something changed.  Productivity kept going up, but where in the past median household income and employment per capita would have also hitched along, they instead diverged.  Median household income is on a steep decline, employment isn’t bouncing back strongly after the Great Recession, and a greater percentage of Americans now identify themselves as “lower class” than at any point in history.
The trouble is that the guy who once rode along in the pickup truck is now unemployed and he doesn’t know how to design drones or code 3-D modeling software.  The average American is looking more and more like that guy.  A study by two researchers at the Oxford Martin School concludes that within the next 20 years or so, approximately 47 percent of all jobs could be replaced by automation.
“Technology is racing ahead, but our skills, our organizations, our institutions aren’t keeping up,” Brynjolfsson said.  “As they adjust, we will see more of the benefit show up in the economics, but right now there are a lot of technologies with more potential than has been fully realized.”  This trend is just getting started.
In addition, decoupling means the upper 1 percent gets a bigger piece of a growing pie, Brynjolfsson said, which also accounts for the shrinking middle class.  “A lot of these digital technologies have winner-take-all or winner-take-most economics, where you can get a small group of people producing a better piece of software or insight, and once they’ve digitized that, they can replicate it 10 times or a hundred million times, and dominate the market for that,” he said.
“Look at our health-care policy, look at our retirement policy,” he said.  “Those policies are built on this assumption that people have 9-to-5 jobs and stay with one employer their whole lives.  That’s profoundly not true for the American workforce and hasn’t been true for well over a decade.  A third of American workers are self-employed and another third are contingently employed, which means only about a third of the workforce has a traditional 9-to-5 job.  Yet our policymakers and our politicians are building all the policy on the assumption that this is a good way to do it.”
People must demand that their leaders be technologically literate, Mele said, because “it’s profoundly dangerous to have elected officials or policymakers who don’t have any technical literacy to evaluate what’s going on.”  A recent Gartner report identified that 60 percent of CEOs dismiss the idea that automated and smart technologies could displace a huge percentage of jobs in the next 15 years.
“I think we’re hitting the knee of the curve and things are getting exponential,” Armstrong said.  “Make sure that you understand and your leadership understands what is happening in these areas and what the implications are because that’s going to drive social policy and government policy to a huge degree.  A lot of this stuff is happening very quietly.
“Government has been shrinking for so long, that’s been an accepted way of doing business.  I think this is not going to leave anyone alone.  One way or another, it’s going to affect us all,” he said. “In any kind of revolution, we always lose jobs, but there’s always been something to replace all those jobs, and that may not be the case this time.”
    —    Colin Wood
These excerpts are taken from the article titled:  “Robots, Drones and The Uncertain Future Of Work
Appearing in the magazine:  “Government Technology“;  dtd:  April 2014.
The article can be found online at:  http://www.govtech.com/products/Robots-Drones-and-the-Uncertain-Future-of-Work.html
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