Jobs that do not require a lot of thought are getting wiped out by automation (in case you didn't already notice).
Want to blame something? Blame new knowledge. Knowledge created the electronic gadgets and software that can now do almost any routine task. This goes well beyond the factory floor. America also used to have lots of elevator operators, telephone operators, bank tellers and service-station attendants. Remember? Most have been replaced by technology. Supermarket check-out clerks are being replaced by automatic scanners. The Internet has taken over the routine tasks of travel agents, real estate brokers, stock brokers and even accountants. With digitization and high-speed data networks a lot of back office work can now be done more cheaply abroad.
Any job that's even slightly routine is disappearing from the U.S. But this doesn't mean we are left with fewer jobs. It means only that we have fewer routine jobs, including traditional manufacturing. When the U.S. economy gets back on track, many routine jobs won't be returning--but new jobs will take their place. A quarter of all Americans now work in jobs that weren't listed in the Census Bureau's occupation codes in 1967. Technophobes, neo-Luddites and anti-globalists be warned: You're on the wrong side of history. You see only the loss of old jobs. You're overlooking all the new ones.
What is the defining characteristic of the routine jobs that are getting automated out of existence? They place low cognitive demands on workers. So the jobs that are going away are the jobs that dummies can do. The demand for workers on the left half of the IQ Bell Curve is declining. That's the most important trend in the labor force of America and every other industrialized nation.
What types of jobs are experiencing demand growth? Brain jobs. Occupations where you have to be smart to be productive. That's the flip side of the decline in jobs for dummies: more jobs for smarties.
The reason they're so easy to overlook is that so much of the new value added is invisible. A growing percent of every consumer dollar goes to people who analyze, manipulate, innovate and create. These people are responsible for research and development, design and engineering. Or for high-level sales, marketing and advertising. They're composers, writers and producers. They're lawyers, journalists, doctors and management consultants. I call this "symbolic analytic" work because most of it has to do with analyzing, manipulating and communicating through numbers, shapes, words, ideas.
Robert Reich, when you served as Bill Clinton's Labor Secretary didn't you get the memo? Low skilled Hispanic immigrants are needed for economic growth even though the demand for low skilled routine labor is dropping. Now, I do not understand logically how to reconcile the need for more supply when demand is falling. Using logical reasoning I'm not able to divine how the wisdom of our elites makes any sense. But that is what they tell us.
On the bright side, this future that Reich describes bodes well for his students at UC Berkeley. They've got the skills needed for the kinds of jobs the US economy is producing. But on the not-so-bright side, the average skill set of the US labor force is looking less and less like the graduates of UC Berkeley.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2009 May 31 10:32 AM Economics Labor|