Automation and Unemployment

For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots. ...
The study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States. Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple.

The paper adds to the evidence that automation, more than other factors like trade and offshoring that President Trump campaigned on, has been the bigger long-term threat to blue-collar jobs.
- Claire Cain Miller, Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs, NYT, MARCH 28, 2017

In much of the world, people whose livelihoods depend on paychecks are increasingly anxious about a potential wave of unemployment threatened by automation. As the frightening tale goes, globalization forced people in wealthier lands like North America and Europe to compete directly with cheaper laborers in Asia and Latin America, sowing joblessness. Now, the robots are coming to finish off the humans. ...
A pair of Oxford University researchers concluded that nearly half of all American jobs could be replaced by robots and other forms of automation over the next two decades.
- PETER S. GOODMAN, The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine, NYT, DEC. 27, 2017

The agriculture industry has begun to invest in automation and robotics to compensate for a worsening labor shortage.

In the lettuce fields of California’s Salinas Valley, a new machine plies row after row of romaine lettuce, doing the backbreaking work, long performed by people, of lobbing heads of romaine lettuce from the field. It saves time and human labor.

Still, more than half of all field workers are undocumented, according to the Farm Bureau, which has said that their sudden disappearance would deal a catastrophic blow to American agriculture.

Since the 1990s, undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America have flocked to towns like Dalton, Ga., to work in the carpet mills. Across the South and in fast-growing cities like Denver, hundreds of thousands have been absorbed by the construction industry as roofers, painters and bricklayers.

Unauthorized immigrants in 2016 represented 10.6 percent of the labor force in Nevada, 8.6 percent in California and 8.2 percent in Texas, according to a study released last month by the Pew Research Center. ...
Unauthorized immigrants represent about 24 percent of all workers in farming, fishing and forestry and 15 percent of those employed in construction, which is the industry that uses the most undocumented immigrant workers overall, at 1.35 million.
- Miriam Jordan, 8 Million People Are Working Illegally in the U.S. Here’s Why That’s Unlikely to Change., NYT, Dec. 11, 2018

Replacement of humans with machines is advocated as more competitive, making production less costly. But what will become of the consequently unemployed humans?

Supporters of stricter immigration policies said they were sympathetic to the plight of small farms. But they pointed out that the farms’ reliance on inexpensive, undocumented labor would handicap American agriculture in the long term.

They argue that while immigration crackdowns could force farms to consolidate and mechanize and may be hard for individual farmers, it would make the industry more competitive globally.

“The more productive policy response would be subsidized loans to invest in machinery for small-scale farmers, rather than revising how we import foreign workers and perpetuating the labor-intensive old-fashioned way of doing business,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors restricting immigration.
- Christina Goldbaum, Trump Crackdown Unnerves Immigrants, and the Farmers Who Rely on Them, NYT, March 18, 2019

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