Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Businesses Robotics Technology

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?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Recession, Tech Kill Middle-Class Jobs

Comments Filter:
  • Chicken Littles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SillyHamster (538384) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:45PM (#42673803)
    What if the sky is really falling?
    • Re:Chicken Littles (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:02PM (#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 vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:06PM (#42674079)

        why not focus on the question of what we are going to do with all unskilled labor that is currently being replaced?

        "Let them eat cake" as long as possible, followed, of course, by revolution. In this case, the revolution will, in fact, be televised. Probably won't fix anything, but not avoidable either.

        • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:28PM (#42675189)
          But think of the jobs it will create in the entertainment industry alone!
        • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @08:45PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:14PM (#42674177)

        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?

        The same thing we do every night after work.

        We consume as much drugs as possible and watch TV.

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

        by mikael (484) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @07:33PM (#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.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)
        To further sum up: "Let's go back to the stone age folks, and use stone tools so that maybe this trend in computers taking over jobs that nobody wants to do to begin with ends"
      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        I've long said the job of IT is to eliminate work.....sometimes that's to free up people to work on other things, sometimes it's to eliminate positions. Whether the application is to make an accountant's job easier or to automate the manufacturing process, it's still about doing more with less.

        I've been on many projects where the savings in the first year (real savings, not the funny money cost-benefit-analysis savings) was more than double the cost of the project.

  • by Nimey (114278)

    You forgot trickle-down economics.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Phrogman (80473)

      Trickle down - thats the rich pissing on the ever increasing poor classes.

    • by mc6809e (214243)

      Lowering the highest marginal income tax rates beat back inflation in the early 80's and helped to provide capital for funding the technological advances and products of the last 30 years.

      And yeah, some people became rich being a part of all that. So what?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        They are already basically at the 1987 rates and far below the 50% top marginal rate of 1982.

        At some point we have to pay for stuff.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      People talk shit about the trickle-down theory, but it did actually happen, it trickled-down right on past the border to China and Indonesia and India and etc...

      And the profits from that were sent to the top using an express elevator completely bypassing the middle class.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:48PM (#42673841)

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

  • "What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"

    Could go either way - Asimov came up with his laws of robotics as a way to counter all the "evil robot" fiction of the 1940s and 50s (so that the implications of having self aware non-humans could be explored in stories, rather than just the "run for the hills" type)

    On the other hand, the Skynet robots, came to a conclusion that they were not only in charge, but the humans made their work less

  • André Gorz (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:52PM (#42673905) Homepage
    I'm currently reading Critique of Economic Reason by André Gorz. Despite being almost 30 years old, it describes this situation well. Rises in productivity due to automation are incompatible with a culture that values 'work' on a moral basis, and associates it with a persons identity.
    • Agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:01PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Torvac (691504)
      his later books show ways to get around some of the problems he predicted. totally worth reading.
    • Re:André Gorz (Score:4, Informative)

      by radtea (464814) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:37PM (#42674503)

      Rises in productivity due to automation are incompatible with a culture that values 'work' on a moral basis, and associates it with a persons identity.

      This is the critical thing, in much the same way that decoupling wealth and power from land ownership during the Industrial Revolution was incompatible with a culture that valued landed estates on a moral basis, and associated them with a person's identity (at least for the gentry, who were after all the only people who counted as "people", back in the day.)

      It took something closer to centuries than decades for a relatively small and educated class to come to terms with that (my Scotish friends tell me England is still struggling with it.)

      Today, we have a system of distribution of benefits from social producitivity [*] that depends on "work", while automation is rapidly eliminating jobs while maintaining productivity (and therefore profits for owners.)

      It is of course completely indeterminate how this is going to end, but we can be pretty sure that a hundred years from now the status quo of the past century in which paid corporate employment has been the common basis for the distribution of wealth, won't be the norm, and more than the leasehold farming and villiage life that was the norm in England in 1750 much resembled the average English life in 1850 (Male Employment in Agriculture/Industry = 1760: 52.8%/23.8%; 1840: 28.6%/47.3%).

      [*] if you don't think social goods like the rule of law in general and the Companies Act in particular are absolutely necessary, though admittedly not sufficient, for "private" corporations to exist, much less thrive, you might be a libertarian lunatic

  • oblig (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:54PM (#42673925)

    Got enough karma so might as well post this AC: http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

    Captcha: exempt

  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:55PM (#42673935) Journal

    What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?"

    The final question in TFS is an example of a question that's bounced along the periphery of technology and now deserves centre stage. Nicely put!

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

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Things that cannot be or are not desired to be automated.

      We see this already. People are buying handmade crap, just because it is handmade. No matter how good frozen food gets, I would rather go to restaurant. No matter how good that robot waiter is I rather have a nice cute female human bringing me my food and booze.

      Automation will drive prices down for common things. This means people will desire uncommon things and pay extra for them.

      • by vlm (69642)

        You're changing the subject but not the topic.

        So you'll make a new hierarchy of style and tactile dexterity. Trust me, no one wants to buy my homemade knitted scarf, along with 99% of the human population. My grandma did in fact knit kick ass handmade sweaters that looked pretty awesome, but an entire family clan cannot live off one granny.

        So you'll make a new hierarchy of hotness. Again, you don't want to see a fat middle-aged-ish dude like me in a hooters waitress uniform. Well maybe some of you weirdo

        • by PrimaryConsult (1546585) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @09:17PM (#42676227)

          The hope for humanity would be for a simple and money-optional society. Everyone "gets" the basics (food, shelter, simple clothes, education, healthcare, public transportation, maybe a computer with internet access) with no requirement to contribute anything to society. If they want anything more than that (iPod, trip to Disney Land, a car, a house with front yard, clothes other than a solid color t shirt) they will need to make money, and for that they will have to work in one of the few jobs available. These jobs would be almost entirely academic (research will always be necessary), service, or cultural in nature. People would work until they could afford whatever luxuries they want, and then could opt to go back to having free time to explore their own desires/ambition. Without the requirement to work, working conditions would automatically improve, as companies would no longer be able to keep workers if "doing nothing" is better than the job they are offering.

          That is possible today actually, if we change the welfare system from something that gives out money to something that only provided necessities, and not money. Instead of farm subsidies, flat out buy the food.

          This system would only work if the "public option" for things that was held to a standard that anyone would be willing to accept. What passes for public housing now does not qualify, but what passes for dorms / cafeterias at a public college would be a start.

    • by Baron_Yam (643147) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:27PM (#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?'

  • It time to make full time 30-32 hours a week with overtime starting at 32 and more rules makeing it harder to pay people salary to get out of OT. or even push people under the min wage while working on salary with so menu hours.

    More peopel working part time is better then a few people pulling 60-80+ hour weeks.

    Maybe even over time 20 can be come the new full time.

    • France has a 35 hour workweek already. Its seen, by conservative UK politicians, as a sign of a failed socialist state on the verge of economic implosion - but then again, they've been saying that for decades and it hasn't happened yet.
      • France has a 10%+ and growing unemployment rate. The idea behind a shorter working week is not "the entire country works less", the idea is that the work which does exist is distributed more evenly over the population. So people work less, but more people work, and because everything is so damn efficient and cheap the quality of life can still be pretty good.

        That isn't likely to happen in a place like France because laws make hiring and especially firing people very difficult. So if you have some work that

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:57PM (#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.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Perhaps he means by the impact Email has on the postal service. We don't need mail delivery two times a day when email is all day everyday. That means less postmen are employed.

  • Umm, Ya (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anon-Admin (443764) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @05:57PM (#42673959) Journal

    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?"

    You could learn to repair the machines, or learn to make the machines.

    However, we have seen it before and we will see it again.

    5000bc
    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the wheel is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to the men who carry the litter?

    1840's
    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the machine is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to all the children that spin cotton?

    1980's
    But what if this time it's different? What if delegating everything to the machine is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history? What will happen to all the people who calculate trajectories when they are replaced by a single machine?

    The only constant in this world is that everything changes. I believe the old adage is "Lead, Follow, or get out of the way!"

  • Time to sledgehammer every PC in sight at your work.
  • we were told that this would free us from drudge work and give us lots of leasure time. Unfortunately, all of the benefit goes to the already-wealthy, and the only leasure time we get is the time to be unemployed.

    I hope they are building things that robots will buy!

  • I honestly can't find exactly what jobs are being killed. What jobs exactly are even considered middle class seems to be highly contentious and subjective.

    Can anyone point out to me an exact list of which jobs are reducing by technology? I, personally, don't consider a manufacturing job to be middle class, for example. And, it would seem, neither does wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "The following is a list of occupations one might expect to find among this class: Accountants, Professors (Post-secondary educators), Physicians,

    • by swb (14022)

      I think the assumption is that manufacturing jobs had in many ways achieved "middle class" status by the late 1960s. They had pay that allowed a spouse to not work, health benefits, pensions and enabled the workers to own their own home and an automobile.

      Most of the jobs you listed I would call "professional" jobs that either require post-secondary education (doctor, lawyer, professors) or substantial certifications (accountant, architect, financial managers, nurses).

      A lot of those jobs (doctors, lawyers,

    • Re:Specificity? (Score:4, Informative)

      by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:29PM (#42674391)

      What jobs exactly are even considered middle class seems to be highly contentious and subjective.

      Depends how far back you go, I suppose. If you go back 35 years, you'd find lots of people working in manufacturing (autos / ships / whatever), steelwork etc. who were 'middle class.' They owned a car and a house, raised a family, maybe went to a ballgame on the weekend. Those are the jobs that are gone.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It's all those manufacturing jobs, apparently. The ones that are dirty, dangerous and mind numbing. Thanks to insanely strong unions many of them are also obscenely overpaid, which makes them "middle class."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:07PM (#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 @06:09PM (#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.)
  • What if delegating everything to machines is a radical and fundamental new change in the course of human history?

    Then we'll deal with it when the time comes. My suggestion is to handle it by letting the machines work while the rest of us have parties and write open source software (for those of us who think parties are boring).

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Those who own the machines will party. The rest will most likely starve and be ignored. Then tossed in jail when they steal to eat.

  • Automation of manufacturing has pretty much already happened. Instead of 40% of the workforce making stuff it's now at 8%.

    Farming went through this earlier. Farming jobs are now somewhere around 5% of the total employment base.

    As these sectors are already such a small part of the workforce changes aren't going to affect the overall economy that much.

    So the question is what segments come next? It's going to be hard to outsource middle managers, as personal interaction is so big a part of their jobs. Engineer

    • by Animats (122034)

      There are far fewer middle managers than there used to be. Span of control (number of persons reporting to a manager) was typically 4-5 in the 1950s. Now it's typically up to around 8-10. This is a direct result of improved information technology. This implies less upward mobility.

      Retail is shrinking. The US has a lot of closed stores and dead malls. They're not coming back. First Wal-Mart clobbered the small town main street, and now Amazon is clobbering what's left.

      A less discussed side effect of

  • by InterGuru (50986) <`jhd' `at' `interguru.com'> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @06:26PM (#42674349) Homepage

    All of us benefit from being the heirs of the industrial revolution. Even the poorest of us have better health and nutrition than before. We all have better health care than the mightiest king did 300 years ago. Yet for the average person who lived during the industrial revolution life was poor hell. Craftsmen and herders were sent into Dickensian factories and mines. I hope we can live long enough for the majority of citizens to see a benefit from our present computer revolution.

Possessions increase to fill the space available for their storage. -- Ryan

Working...