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"Layoffs too often became permanent, not part of the business cycle. And these changes didn't just affect blue collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs and the internet," President Obama said at a campaign event in Kansas.

[Source: Real Clear Politics, December 6, 2011]

I know there were some industries (travel agents) that were virtually destroyed by their failure to adapt and compete with internet sites. But that was 10 years ago.

Have there been a significant number of jobs lost as a result of automation and Internet availability in the last 3-4 years?

  • typical shortsighted comment from a politician, made to stir emotions. Where some jobs are replaced with computers, others are created (people to create and maintain those websites and their infrastructure for example), often more highly valued, better paying jobs. – jwenting Dec 7 '11 at 6:32
  • Not part of the business cycle? "Fire, hire, fire, hire, ..." -- that looks pretty cyclic to me. Technology gets more complex over time, and more of it deployed, so even if it replaces front-end jobs the maintenance requirements are bound to increase (by what rate, I'm not sure, but I know of a major government agency in North America for which over 15% of its 2,000+ employee work force is the I.T. department). – Randolf Richardson Dec 7 '11 at 6:56
  • @RandolfRichardson - I think so too perhaps spurred by policies that are not conducive to bringing on new employees when it can be avoided. But it is possible that automation has replaced workers as a result, or that automation has made the appearance that the policies failed. – Chad Dec 7 '11 at 14:15
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This paper from the Center for American Progress comes to approximately that conclusion:

Although the U.S. labor market will almost surely rebound from the Great Recession, this paper presents a somewhat disheartening picture of its longer-term evolution. Rising demand for highly educated workers, combined with lagging supply, is contributing to higher levels of earnings inequality. Demand for middle-skill jobs is declining, and consequently, workers that do not obtain postsecondary education face a contracting set of job opportunities.

This article from The Economist summarizes the paper.

I'm not sure if it counts for much, but you can see that GDP has recovered in the last 5 years while (clearly) unemployment has not and the logical conclusion to draw is that companies have found ways to make the smaller workforce generate even more product.

(Warning: some opinion ahead) The trend over the last ~150 years has been to do this via automation, but I would also expect there's some real or implied threats to the existing labor force in many industries to work harder or else.

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    +1 because this does indicate that it may be possible(Which is not actually what I expected) – Chad Dec 6 '11 at 22:00
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    Rising demand for highly educated workers, combined with lagging supply How SHOCKING! Education is important? No one saw that coming, right? /sarcasm – Larian LeQuella Dec 6 '11 at 23:34
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    @Larian Unfortunately, it would appear we're no longer educated enough to recognize those kinds of patterns. – corsiKa Dec 7 '11 at 0:11

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