Technology is a mixed blessing.
- It creates a more comfortable existence for those who can afford to use it. Clearly Amazon and the ability to get almost everything delivered to your home makes life easier for many people.
- Technology destroys jobs. While technology creates a few skilled positions, it eliminates a range of jobs from unskilled to medical specialist.
A sample of the jobs under threat include business analyst, statistician, programmers, market research, store clerks, anesthesiologists, restaurant workers and cab drivers. During a recent labor dispute, Long Island University pushed the envelop by maintaining that once course material is loaded into Blackboard software, lower paid workers could replace professors in actually teaching the material. Of course, software facilitates outsourcing of jobs to lower paid workers elsewhere on the globe.
Now, if one takes a “long term view” of technology, say from 1870 to 2015, technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. That’s true, but technology until the last 20 years wasn’t about robotics. Robots were a fantasy of H. G. Wells in the 1870s. Walmart is working on smart shopping carts that will do a variety of functions that people do today: for example, bring them selves back from the parking lot and inventory items being purchased. In the 1900s, leather workers could shift from buggy whips to other products. What do you do now with a displaced store clerk?
Economists can continue to split hairs about the impact of technology. The bottom line is that the Census in the US reports 124.7 million people with full time employment (September 2016), defined as working 35 or more hours per week. That’s 59.8% of the US population age 16+ with full time work. In January 2007, 63.3% of the population had full time work. The percentage dropped with the crash in 2008 and has only slightly recovered since.
The difference seems like a small percentage, but not if you’re one of the people who wants full time work and can’t get it. The stores that those people used to patronize also suffer.
Compounding the problem is that real median disposable income among Americans peaked at the end of the Clinton administration (1999), at $57,909, and has been consistently lower since that time (the low point being $52,666 at the end of 2012).
There’s a real reason for the frustration and anger showing in this year’s election.
- Allen, Katie, “Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data,” The Guardian, 18 August 2015.
- “America’s Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs,” The Wall Street Journal, 12 October 2016.
- Census Bureau, Current Population Survey. http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS12300000
- Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N
- Robbins, Liz, “L.I.U.-Brooklyn Locks Out Professors Amid Contract Dispute,” The New York Times, 6 September 2016.