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Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs 586

Posted by Soulskill
from the middle-class-jobs-had-it-coming dept.
Un pobre guey writes "'To understand the impact technology is having on middle-class jobs in developed countries, the AP analyzed employment data from 20 countries; tracked changes in hiring by industry, pay and task; compared job losses and gains during recessions and expansions over the past four decades; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, entrepreneurs and people in the labor force who ranged from CEOs to the unemployed.' Their findings: Technology has consistently reduced the number of manufacturing jobs for 30 years; people with repetitive jobs have been easy to replace in the past, and task jugglers like managers and supervisors will be likely targets in the future; companies in the S&P 500 have expanded their business and increased profits, but reduced staffing, thanks to tech; and startups are launching much more easily these days. The response to the article includes the dutifully repeated bad-government-is-at-fault and don't-worry-it's-like-the-Industrial-Revolution memes. But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"
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Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs

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  • Chicken Littles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SillyHamster (538384) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:45PM (#42673803)
    What if the sky is really falling?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:48PM (#42673841)

    Tech has always been for getting things done faster, better and cheaper. Get over it.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:52PM (#42673903)

    The idea that our government could plan anything this complex and succeed is preposterous.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:57PM (#42673951)

    The death of the middle class over the past 30 years has been intentional. Our leaders seek to return us to feudalism, and have been very successful at that. Remember that, next time you see a politician crying about the middle class.

    So, since this article posits that the rise of technology is also what's killing middle-class jobs, our leaders are... us. Right here in this tech-centric website. Discussing and promoting tech. The tech that's killing middle-class jobs.

    Nope, nope, too inconvenient. Has to be teh evul shadow comspeeracy and teh evul evul gummervents lookin' to take our guns and our jobs! Whew! That's much less depressing, and way easier to polarize!

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:57PM (#42673957) Homepage

    The article says: In the U.S., the economic recovery that started in June 2009 has been called the third straight "jobless recovery." But that's a misnomer. The jobs came back after the first two. Most recessions since World War II were followed by a surge in new jobs as consumers started spending again and companies hired to meet the new demand. In the months after recessions ended in 1991 and 2001, there was no familiar snap-back, but all the jobs had returned in less than three years.

    That is not the case. The ratio of working age men who actually work has steadily fallen since the 50s (in the USA). After each recession it plunged and then recovered .... but not to the original levels. Data [blogspot.ch].

    Anyway, whilst I'm sympathetic to the general topic and find the idea fascinating, the article has a lot of other questionable statements in it. Like this one: Even the most commonplace technologies — take, say, email — are making it tough for workers to get jobs. That's obviously wrong. Email and the net allow people to find employers around the world whereas before they might have been limited to their local area. Heck, I hired a commission artist just two days ago, I initiated contact via email.

  • Agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:01PM (#42674011)

    A lot of intelligent, educated people can still get too caught up in ideologies to see the big picture.

    In order to be viable in the market, a labor-saving device must, by logical necessity eliminate more work than it creates. This is the only way to get the total cost of ownership down below the cost of hiring people to do the work. When successfully applied widely enough, this processes has serious economic implications.

    There is a finite (and, ultimately, small) demand for brain-work (you only need one genius to invent a trinket in order for everybody to be able to have one), so the majority of displaced workers cannot simply promote themselves to more interesting work. When production is very high but the labor cost is very low, you wind up with large masses of people who can't find *any* work (or at least nothing that provides a livable wage). That results in severe crime and upheaval.

    As tech puts us all out of work, we either start adopting more socialist policies, we put most of our population in jail (where we pay for their needs anyway), or we experience a violent mess.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:02PM (#42674017)

    To sum up:

      "To understand the impact of tech on skilled labor (where automation is extremely questionable) , we studied the impact of tech on unskilled, easily automated labor"

    "Technology has consistently reduced the number of manufacturing jobs for 30 years; people with repetitive jobs have been easy to replace in the past, and task jugglers like managers and supervisors will be likely targets in the future"

    When we come up with a real Computer AI, wake me up to care about "middle class" jobs... until then why not focus on the question of what we are going to do with all unskilled labor that is currently being replaced?

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:02PM (#42674025)

    well we need more hands on training / apprenticeships.

    The college system is kind of out of date and comes with the full load of fluff and filler classes. Tech schools are roped into the college system as well.

    There is lot's stuff that is poor fit into a 2 year or 4 year plan and other stuff that needs a lot more hands on training that is a poor fit for a collgle class room. When more of a community College setting is better. Yes community College offer classes non degree.

    Also the cost of college is getting to high and by cutting down what is now 4-5 years down to say 1-3 years can save alot and make it quicker to learn skills.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swb (14022) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:05PM (#42674069)

    I sometimes wonder if feudalism isn't the economic system that is just historically more sustainable over time than anything else once your population exceeds the numbers associated with tribal organization.

    How long have we actually had "capitalism" and the kind of capitalism that assumes that its participants should pay fair prices or receive fair wages? Historically it seems like a total anomaly and it requires a ton of energy (political, economic, human) to sustain it.

    Given the chance, those who can will hoard resources and charge exorbitant prices for them and will pay as little as possible for labor, with no concern over the standard of living of labor. Slavery isn't inconsistent with feudal organization.

    At least in agrarian feudalism there were some limits -- underfed agricultural labor tends to produce less, putting the entire enterprise at risk, and some kinds of feudalism, though unfair by many standards, evolved to at least have a sort of reciprocal welfare, where the continuance of the system was more important than its efficiency.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:07PM (#42674087)

    I think some of the commentors here need to go back to econ 101 (or just use their heads for five minutes).

    Automation and increased unemployment are _inversely correlated_. If automation destroyed jobs, than how do you account for the trillions of jobs that have been created over the previous thousands of years given the creation of the wheel, the plow, the assembly line, the computer, etc.?

    There are _tons_ of jobs being created by today's automation, just as there always has been with increased efficiencies. The problem is that those jobs aren't being created in the US! The taxes are too high, the regulation is too onerous, and the labor is too expensive. If we lack job creation in the US, we only have ourselves and our boneheaded policies to blame!

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:09PM (#42674111)

    The response to the article includes the dutifully repeated bad-government-is-at-fault and don't-worry-it's-like-the-Industrial-Revolution memes. But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?

    All of these things are true:

    • "Bad government", or, more precisely, suboptimal government preparedness for and response to the changes in the nature of the economy are in no small part responsible for the fact that people have become unable to support themselves as a result of the changes.
    • It's a lot like the Industrial Revolution (but this isn't a reason not to worry; the Indutrial Revolution was a massive disruption that the world and systems of government and economy took quite a long time--with a lot of human misery--to adapt to.)
    • Delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history (in scale, potentially larger than the Industrial Revolution), and one that fundamentally knocks the pillars out fron underneath the whole wage-labor-centered economy that was the end result of the adaptations to the Industrial Revolution. As more is automated, capital (broadly, including land and resources) is all that matters, which makes it most essential--at least, if you want to minimize the suffering and disruptions of the inevitable transitions--to create a distribution of capital that lets the portion of the population currently dependent on labor income become small-scale capitalists, and to extend security guarantees that are currently associated with wage labor with income from capital as well (e.g., in the U.S., labor-qualified programs like Social Security and Medicare.)
  • Re:As intended. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:20PM (#42674249)

    Feudalism ended for a reason, and it's not coming back unless the conditions that generated it come back around again. I consider that a possibility if we run short on resources like oil, without a backup plan, but it won't come from increased efficiency like automation.

    The thing that people forget is that when automation becomes more and more ubiquitous, it becomes cheaper and cheaper. Eventually, the common people will own the means of production without a revolution because the means of production will be self-producing, intelligent, and widely available. The computer I am typing on is more powerful than a supercomputer from a few decades ago. My $499 tablet runs more applications, with more colors, networking and sound, than my 4,000 dollar desktop did in the 1990s.

    Yes, jobs where you get paid 70K to fetch tools from a tool bin are going to be history. That's not a middle class job. That's a blue collar job with a ridiculous salary.

  • by Baron_Yam (643147) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:27PM (#42674359)

    Now, what are we going to do for a living after everything's been automated?

    This isn't the problem. The real problem is, 'How are we going to allocate resources without work as a measurement of worth?'

  • Re:As intended. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:31PM (#42674411)

    The computer I am typing on is more powerful than a supercomputer from a few decades ago.

    No, it isn't. That computer handled the needs of an entire multinational corporation and resulted in numerous scientific discoveries and papers. Your table is so amazingly un-powerful all you can do is play angry birds on it and post to /.

    "Economic power" comes from what it DOES not how fast a flipflop toggles in the innards.

    If you want a cruddy analogy, the brain of a Nobel prize winner might be "better" in whatever measure than the average coffee barista. That doesn't mean that coffee made by a Nobel Prize winner is any more "powerful" than coffee made by the average tattooed pierced B.S. degree holding barista.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daetrin (576516) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:35PM (#42674465)
    Sadly, many people would rather believe that some powerful, competent and malevolent group is in charge and causes all the bad shit that happens. Whether that group is the government, corporations, the UN, the Illuminati, or whatever.

    The idea that sometimes shit happens because someone just screwed up is scary. The idea that sometimes shit just happens and it isn't even possible to stop it is scary. No one would have had to come up with the adage "Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity" if people weren't so eager to believe that there was someone to blame for intentionally causing all their problems instead.

    Note of course this does not deny that governments, corporations, and other groups _can't_ purposefully do shitty things to people, just that people have a strong tendency to exaggerate the power, maliciousness and competence of those groups.
  • by mc6809e (214243) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:50PM (#42674667)

    Middle class incomes stagnated, that's what. The rich got a *lot* richer, everyone else got jack shit.

    Not true. The median income from 1965 to 2005 (in 2005 dollars) shows a general trend upward. If anything it shows movement towards stagnation BEFORE "trickle down" tax rates went into effect.

    And no, everyone else didn't get jack shit. Just look on your desk right now. You have what at one time would have been considered a supercomputer attached to a global network that you use to bitch about how exploited you are.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cusco (717999) <brian...bixby@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:51PM (#42674683)
    Well, when you have people like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist openly proclaiming that they intend to take us back to the glory days of the Victorian age and they're back with unlimited funds from some of the richest people the planet has ever known it's a bit hard to believe that it's all just coincidence. Powerful, competent and malevolent certainly describe those two, and quite a number of people that they work closely with.
  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:57PM (#42674763)

    What are humans good at? Doing the sorts of things that machines can't do well yet. If machines become good at everything, it doesn't mean we all become destitute because there are no jobs. It means that everything can be had with minimal effort. It means that you no longer need to be rich (in terms of having money) in order to live a comfortable life. It means that the price of labor approaches zero, so even if you have almost zero dollars, you can have a lot of stuff.

    Before we get to this (eu|dis)topian future, in the meantime, the price of goods and services will continue to get lower (but not to zero), and you need to have a job paying more than $0/hr to have things. The good news is that machines still suck at a lot of things compared to humans. Even "unskilled" people have skills merely by virtue of having a meat computer in their heads. They are usually capable of tasks like high accuracy image and facial recognition (which is why captchas work). We can pay people to transcribe old books and recognize and tag people in pictures for 2 cents a face/word and have the robots carry all the bricks up and down stairs for free.

    Creating jobs is easy. Through a rock through a window. Job created. Smash a jar of food on the ground. Job created. There will be things that need to be done (i.e. jobs) for the forseeable future. We just need to allocate jobs to people/machines efficiently. This means *not* giving jobs to people that machines do better and vice versa. It also means *not* creating unnecessary jobs. If people are not up to the task of performing the jobs we need them to, then we train them, and training people is yet another job. Creating jobs is easy. Minimizing jobs is hard. Paying people for jobs that we don't need done is wasteful and unsustainable. We need to continually give people the skills necessary to do the jobs that machines can't do cheaply yet, and reap the free rewards from the jobs that machines can do cheaply. The more wealth we generate for the least effort, the more there is to go around.

    A world without jobs is an awesome world. Getting the super wealthy to share with the less wealthy is an entirely different problem that can maybe be solved with threats of revolution and guillotines, but slowing the advance of technology, and diminishing the total potential pool of wealth is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Re:As intended. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Marxdot (2699183) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:15PM (#42675007)

    The thing that people forget is that when automation becomes more and more ubiquitous, it becomes cheaper and cheaper. Eventually, the common people will own the means of production without a revolution because the means of production will be self-producing, intelligent, and widely available.

    True, on the condition it isn't successfully lobbied and regulated out of the hands of the common people.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikael (484) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:33PM (#42675227)

    Middle class jobs have already been replaced in the past - you just weren't around at the time.

    Newspapers used to have huge print departments - entire teams of hundreds of people employed to take the stories that journalists wrote, convert them into metal boilerplate on drums, choosing appropriate font sizes, laying out rows of text, leaving space for pictures and photographs, doing a run of hundreds of thousands of newspaper pages, then tearing down this boilerplate and putting all the letters back into the appropriate boxes for each font. All done within a day. When WYSIWYG edit systems came out, the journalists and editors could do this by themselves. The print unions went on strike demanding that they be the ones to operate these systems. Known as the Wapping Dispute [wikipedia.org] where 6000 workers went on strike over the sudden vaporisation of their jobs. In-house print departments have been replaced by Powerpoint and laser printers. They might still be around for presentation posters.

    Corporate structures have become flatter. Some companies used to have a 3 to 1 ratio for managers to subordinates, so there would be 10 people between an engineer and the CEO. Typing secretaries have been replaced by admins and personal assistants, and executaries. Weaving loom operators have been replaced by Photoshop artists and machine technicians. Telephone operators have been replaced by automatic exchanges.
    Workers either emigrate, set up their own companies and/or move onto doing something diffferent.

  • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:00PM (#42675505)

    Traditionally in this sort of example, the rock throwers and jar smashers represent the government. The people benefiting (those getting an otherwise unnecessary job) are the "special interests", and the ones who end up paying the cost are the taxpayers.

    When the government decides it will pay people money to destroy their old cars (i.e. cash for clunkers), this creates jobs on the auto industry (the special interest), but it comes at the expense of the tax payer. It may seem like the beneficiary is the lowly autoworker with the new job, but this job is also profitable for the auto company (i.e. it's shareholders), that supplies it

    Any economy with a lot of window smashing job creation is one that has a smaller wealth pool from which to distribute to the same number of people. All economies are exploitable by those who are good at exploiting. Having more total wealth puts less pressure on those that end up at the bottom. For example, look at the situation of poor people in the US compared with poor people in Africa.

  • Re:Umm, Ya (Score:4, Insightful)

    by codepigeon (1202896) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:13PM (#42675647)
    The problem with your argument is that capitalism wasnt the economic system for about 6000 of those years.
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:45PM (#42675937)
    the powers that be are getting a rein in on that. The ruling class has taken back the media. Sure, they let them have their little liberal social issues, but on economics it's conservative capitalism 24/7. The little guys didn't do much revolting for over 2000 years, and got put down every time they did (didn't turn out so good for Napoleon, did it?).

    The assumption you're making is that you're going to win in the good vs evil fight. Even if good doesn't win, you'll win. You won't. They'll come for you soon too. For all of us. There's nothing you have that the ruling class won't take away. Their greed knows no limits or bounds. It's what they do. They have enough wealth to buy anything. They teach us that if somebody just gives it to you you'll stop there. But that's a lie. They didn't stop. They never stop.
  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @08:23PM (#42676289) Journal

    I know a lot of people do not like those who are filthy rich, but you guys need to know this ...

    Most of those who are filthy rich were originally from lower to middle class, just like you guys.

    They got to where they are because of one thing - they got tired of working for someone else.

    I know, I know, the recession and the tech have killed a lot of middle class jobs, but to some, this crisis is the perfect chance for them to do something about it ... like starting their own business, instead.

    So ... why are you guys moaning the loss of your work?

    What is the use of complaining?

    Do you think that by complaining here (and elsewhere) you can get a better job?

    Why don't you start your own business, for a change?

  • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @10:08PM (#42676997) Journal

    Most of those who are filthy rich were originally from lower to middle class, just like you guys.

    (citation needed)

    There are plenty of mechanisms in place which make it easy to assume most of the filthy rich made it because they were born into wealth, either directly through inheritances or indirectly through financial help, family connections, and better schooling. Just as an example, 4 of the top 20 richest people on earth are part of the Walton family, which inherited their wealth from Sam Walton.

    That isn't to say I dismiss your point outright, but I think I need to see some actual data before I accept your point.

  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @11:11PM (#42677405) Journal

    ... easy to assume most of the filthy rich made it because they were born into wealth ...

    If that's what you like to think, that's what you'll end up thinking.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @11:58PM (#42677653)

    Exactly... like the Rothechild's, Jim Walton, Bill Gates, who started at the top and worked his way up, Warren Buffet, who also started as a child of privilege, ...

    In fact, well over 2/3 of the current wealthiest americans all started rich.

    They got their because their PARENTS were already wealthy and in America, your parents' income now accounts for 50% of your adult income potential- that's worse then many companies in EUROPE where it only accounts for 10%.

    America HAS some benefits- like forgiving you if you go bankrupt. You actually can start over again here unlike so many places (unless the reason is student debt- then you are frakked).

    But "land of opportunity" isn't one of them in the way you are talking.

    You can work your way up a rung or two. The rest is all connections, family names, and inherited money.

    And now those guys are using the money to buy machines which have been destroying jobs for almost a generation (15 years).

    Once you stop employing people- you can't use the capitalist model any more.

    If you have a job- do what I did. Save over half of what you made. Don't carry any debt. Then when they lay off 500 of you and take a SEVEN figure raise for "saving money on salaries", you will be safe.

    Worst run offshoring/outsourcing I've ever been part of. Our replacements didn't even arrive until 4 months after the layoffs- most of us were already gone. Companies probably screwed... but wait- that just means the executives are all going to get TWO YEARS PAY for highly damaging the company.

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