Technology and Unemployment
August 24th, 2011 - 24 Comments
Speaking at a town hall meeting last week in Illinois, President Obama said that one of the challenges of creating jobs in our economy is that businesses have used technology to become incredibly efficient, thus reducing their need for employees.
“When was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using the ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online?” the president asked. “A lot of jobs that used to be out there requiring people now have become automated.”
The impact on the unemployment rate of information technology and its concomitant automation is not at all clear. The effect is highly variable across different countries, for example. Looking domestically, travel agents were never a major job category: Even if such jobs were automated away as the number of agencies dropped by about two-thirds in the decade-plus after 1998, such numbers pale alongside construction, manufacturing, and, I would wager, computer programmers whose positions were offshored.
The unfortunate thing in the entire discussion, apart from people without jobs obviously, is the lack of political and popular understanding of both the sources of the unemployment and the necessary solutions. Merely saying “education” or “job retraining” defers rather than settles the debate about what actually is to be done in the face of the structural transformation we are living through. On that aspect, the president is assuredly correct: He has the terminology correct, but structural changes need to be addressed with fundamental rethinking of rules and behaviors rather than with sound bites and band-aids.
Jordan offers more detailed commentary and analysis in the August edition of Early Indications.News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.