Why Good U.S. Jobs Are Too Few and Wages So Poor
The lack of workers trained for a more technologically demanding workplace is slowing growth.
January 8, 2016
Americans are justified to be angry about the economic recovery. This is a bipartisan challenge.
Since Ronald Reagan ran the country, the availability of attractive employment has been trending down and slowing economic growth is often blamed.
During Obama’s recovery, U.S. GDP has advanced at a 2.2% annual pace, whereas the comparable figures for the Reagan and Clinton presidencies were 4.6% and 3.7%.
But that puts the story backwards — the lack of workers adequately trained for a more technologically demanding workplace is slowing growth, not the other way around.
Switch to automation
Automation has been an enduring theme throughout American history. First, reapers and tractors consolidated farms and sent workers to factories.
Then machines replaced workers in manufacturing, pushing them into more highly paid professions in medicine, education and technology (but also less well paid occupations in restaurants, retailing and other services).
Until recently, computer-programmed machines could be taught strenuous and repetitive tasks like attaching a heavy, rigid fender onto an automobile.
Going forward, robots will increasingly replace people in activities requiring more-subtle manual dexterity—like making shirts and harvesting fruit—and those requiring more complex cognitive processes like masonry construction, driving limousines and building new robots that adapt to changing environmental conditions.
The drug store I visit in Washington no longer has cashiers—just a group of checkout machines and one clerk to assist technologically flummoxed patrons.
Over the next two decades, robots will be capable of unloading pallets, stocking shelves, filling prescriptions, and generally running the store with minimal human intervention.
Flawed education system?
By 2030, it will become technologically possible to replace 90% of the jobs as we know them with smart machines.
The real challenge, however, will be training most Americans to engage in intellectually demanding and creative work.
Otherwise, the globalization of technology and competition will relegate most of us to very low paying work better left to androids.
In 2016, Americans should be skeptical, not merely of false promises to restore prosperity made by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, but also outraged by the handiwork of mainstream politicians.
The latters’ efforts to make a U.S. high school diploma universal have made it a nearly worthless credential.
Less than 40% of 12th graders are ready to read or learn math at the college level, and many fewer have skills to enter technically demanding positions without post-secondary training.
A college diploma is not much better. After millions of unqualified students have been pushed into universities, four in ten graduates lack the complex reasoning skills needed for white-collar work — as it exists today.
Machines equipped with high-level artificial intelligence could replace armies of stockbrokers, insurance adjusters and restaurant managers over the next several decades.
Need for more technical skills
Meanwhile the president and his presumptive heir, Hillary Clinton, remain wedded to pushing more people into college (and too often into debt) without regard for whether this investment could possibly pay off.
And conservatives—including the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — oppose universal standards for more academic rigor like the Common Core.
The future lies in educating Americans, not to be angry about false injustice or an omnipresent state, but rather to build and teach the machines that will do the work that has burdened humanity since the first branch was shaped into a hunting implement.
Without young people trained and encouraged to do that sophisticated work, the locus of prosperity will permanently shift from America to Asia.
There, pragmatic leaders urge children to study engineering, not the personal and institutional hobbyhorses peddled by pious academics and deceitful politicians.
The future lies not in being angry about false injustice, rather in building and teaching machines.
Lack of workers trained for a more technologically demanding workplace is slowing growth.
By 2030, it will become technologically possible to replace 90% of the jobs with smart machines.
The globalization of technology will relegate us to low paying work better left to androids.
Four in ten graduates lack the complex reasoning skills needed for white-collar work.