Job creation more than trade

Published 10:57 am Friday, February 10, 2017

What many Americans seek more than anything else from government is access to living wage jobs. President Donald Trump was elected largely on the premise that his business experience could help the country increase both the number and the quality of good jobs.

And the president has already begun his efforts to bring jobs back to America from our trade partners where global companies found lower wage workers and lower taxes on their profits. More than any other industry, the president has put pressure in the first weeks of his administration on the auto industry to increase U.S. jobs and reduce their foreign imports. He has had some success with the Big Three automakers.

But in the longer term, jobs lost to trade agreements is not the most impactful jobs crisis happening in a world that is rapidly changing. A Ball State University study recently found that only 13 percent of U.S. job losses in the last decade could be attributed to trade deals. 87 percent of jobs lost during the same period were from automation.

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U.S. manufacturing has grown since 2010, significantly grown, while 5 million jobs were lost. Robotics has been the determining factor, and that trend is only in its infancy. The next 10-15 years could result in 47 percent of existing jobs being lost to technology according to a report by the Bank of England.

The cost of the technological revolution? Estimates approach 80 million jobs.

Jobs will be lost due to advances in AI, artificial intelligence, to 3-D manufacturing, advanced robotics and driverless vehicles among other sweeping advances.

The automation shift will impact factory jobs, truck drivers, food service workers, retail employees, welders, accountants, paralegals and others. Jobs we think of as requiring human skills will be limited to the skills of innovation and creativity, human skills that so far cannot be replicated by smart machines.

To consider the scope of change, there are today 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. Last October, Uber’s Otto delivered a trailer load of 50,000 beers in a 120 mile trip in Colorado without a driver. This revolution is already underway. An average wage for a Walmart truck driver is $82,000 per year. Losing those jobs is losing 3 million living wage careers.

McKinsey and Co, estimate over 45 percent of U.S. jobs may be lost to the various forms of smart machines in the coming two decades, affecting 800 occupations. Occupations once thought secure from automation, like accountants and paralegals now will be confronted by the AI advances that give us Amazon Echo, automated houses and robots that converse. Any job anchored to facts and logic will be subject to automation.

What will happen is while saving thousands of jobs from jawboning companies to return jobs to the U.S., millions of jobs will be undergoing loss to smart machines. Fundamentally, we are tackling the wrong problem if the U.S. does not develop a strategy for work in the coming age of machines.

We must re-invent an education system that was born in the agricultural age. We must make re-training not rare but basic to every worker to prevent drop-outs from the workforce.

But there will be dropouts, workers who cannot make the transition from mining coal to operating a robotics manufacturing system, workers unable to learn how to practice continuous learning, and workers who thrived in a manufacturing environment that will no longer exist.

And yet, with all the changes and adaptations we may not have enough jobs for all who want work. America may have to shorten work lives to the age of 50; we may have to create jobs that benefit society overall and occupy work age citizens.

Change is coming and our president needs to focus upon the bigger picture that foretells our future.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.