Are robots taking our jobs? Depends on whom you ask.
Automation is exacerbating gap between rich, poor
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.
Robots, like ones at the Tesla factory, are displacing some lower-skilled workers and moving some jobs elsewhere.