Are ro­bots tak­ing our jobs? De­pends on whom you ask.

Au­to­ma­tion is ex­ac­er­bat­ing gap be­tween rich, poor

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Levi Su­ma­gaysay lsuma­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

Some Ama­zon stores have no cashiers, and Waymo is test­ing self-driv­ing taxis. Are ro­bots tak­ing our jobs?

It de­pends on what you do and where you do it, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by the World Bank re­leased this week.

“Ad­vanced economies have shed in­dus­trial jobs, but the rise of the in­dus­trial sec­tor in East Asia has more than com­pen­sated for this loss,” said the re­port, ti­tled “The Chang­ing Na­ture of Work.”

That may seem like good news in a broad sense, but not to the peo­ple whose jobs are dis­ap­pear­ing. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances and au­to­ma­tion are mak­ing the rich richer and the poor poorer.

“Work­ers in some sec­tors ben­e­fit hand­somely from tech­no­log­i­cal progress, whereas those in oth­ers are dis­placed and have to re­tool to sur­vive,” the re­port said. “Plat­form tech­nolo­gies cre­ate huge wealth but place it in the hands of only a few peo­ple.”

The World Bank rec­om­mends a new so­cial con­tract that in­cludes in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion and re­train­ing. Would that help Amer­i­can work­ers?

“Pol­icy-mak­ers in Washington may have talked about the need to bet­ter pre­pare low­er­skilled work­ers for the fu­ture tran­si­tion, but lit­tle has been done,” Robert Atkin­son, pres­i­dent of the In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and In­no­va­tion Foun­da­tion, a Washington-based think tank, said Thurs­day.

“It is likely that the Demo­crat­i­cally- con­trolled House will of­fer up bud­gets that in­crease fund­ing for worker train­ing and dis­lo­cat­ed­worker pro­grams,” Atkin­son added, but said the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate may not spring for as much as Democrats want.

An­other is­sue: Not all new work cre­ated by tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances is ad­vanced work. The emer­gence of gig- econ­omy work — in­for­mal work with no pro­tec­tions, which is com­mon in the de­vel­op­ing world — is af­fect­ing peo­ple in de­vel­oped coun­tries such as the United States.

But Atkin­son said gige­con­omy jobs are not grow­ing much. He cited stud­ies in­clud­ing one by the Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search, which found that jobs through on­line plat­forms such as Uber, Lyft and TaskRab­bit ac­counted for only 0.5 per­cent of all U.S. jobs in 2015.

The World Bank re­port also pointed out that tech­no­log­i­cal changes af­fect­ing the na­ture of work call at­ten­tion to the rel­e­vance of la­bor laws.

La­bor codes should clearly de­fine “what it means to be an em­ployee in cur­rent la­bor mar­kets,” the re­port said.

In ad­di­tion, the World Bank said that across high­in­come coun­tries the share of work­ers cov­ered by a col­lec­tive agree­ment fell from an aver­age 37 per­cent in 2000 to 32 per­cent in 2015, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion statis­tics. In the United States, Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics show the union mem­ber­ship rate was 10.7 per­cent in 2017.

RAY CHAVEZ — STAFF AR­CHIVES

Ro­bots, like ones at the Tesla fac­tory, are dis­plac­ing some lower-skilled work­ers and mov­ing some jobs else­where.

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