Posts Tagged "technology"
December 8, 2022
The Shrinking Middle and Shrinking Wages
My husband likes to tell a story about his father, Joseph Virchick, who was a pipefitter for the Standard Oil refinery in Bayonne, New Jersey, starting in the 1950s. It was a union job – the Teamsters – paying solid middle-class wages that supported his family in an upscale Levitt development with its own swimming pool.
The point here is that this pipefitter with a high school degree lived about as well as his college-educated neighbors who commuted into nearby Manhattan. Virchick and his wife, Henrietta, who also worked, sent all three kids to college. When he retired in the 1980s, they had a pipefitter’s pension to supplement their Social Security.
Today, only 6 percent of private-sector workers are unionized. Something else is going by the wayside along with unions and company pensions: a thriving middle class.
Boston College economist Geoffrey Sanzenbacher argues in his new book that while the U.S. economy, on a per capita basis, has more than doubled in size since 1975, the typical middle-class man’s income, adjusted for inflation, has shrunk by about $2,500, to $60,375 in 2020. (He tracked men’s wages, because the story about women, who flooded into colleges and into the labor force more recently than men, is messier.)
“During a four-decade stretch, middle-class workers lost ground,” Sanzenbacher writes in “The Six Facts that Matter: Understanding Inequality in the United States.”
The same powerful forces that have caused regular workers’ wages to decline also fueled the widening disparities between middle- and lower-paid workers and the people at the top, whose pay has increased since the 1970s. To be sure, lower-paid workers have gained back some of that ground since the pandemic began, and their wages have risen faster than higher-income workers’ pay. But the large inequities persist.
Sanzenbacher blames two things for the eroding middle class: globalization and technology.Learn More
October 20, 2022
Yes, White Men’s Career Paths are Different
White men have the most success over the course of their lives in holding on to well-paying jobs that require high-level analytical abilities and interpersonal skills, a new study finds.
They have so much success that they often remain in this challenging non-routine work – astronomer, community college instructor, and analyst are examples – well into their 60s and even 70s. This isn’t the case for everyone else.
White women and also Asian-American men and women with college degrees also frequently start their careers in positions with demands that are similar to white men. But after they pass their prime working years, this type of work declines, in sharp contrast to white men’s career paths, the researchers found.
For example, the intensity of white women’s nonroutine cognitive work, as well as nonroutine interpersonal jobs like coach or education administrator, peaks around age 40 and then starts declining. At the same time, the intensity of the women’s routine cognitive tasks increase. This trend, which continues until they retire, might happen as older women are sidelined into less challenging office work.
The study, based on occupational data and a couple of long-running surveys of workers, accomplished two things. First, the researchers followed changes since 2004 in the nature of the overall job market. The intensity of the nonroutine tasks required to do a job, rated on a scale from low to high, has declined. But jobs requiring routine tasks have gained ground.
This doesn’t seem to jibe with well-known past research showing that people who do routine work are disproportionately being replaced by robots. But perhaps the prevalence of computers and artificial intelligence in the jobs that remain have increased routinization in many occupations. Reservation and ticket agents, telephone call center representatives, and medical transcriptionists are very high-intensity routine cognitive jobs.
The second part of the analysis showed that the evolution in job demands progresses very differently for various workers as they age and approach retirement.
The focus for Black and Hispanic men is on physical labor. The demands on all men doing manual jobs lessen over time as they lose physical strength. But the racial differences are clear. …Learn More
June 3, 2021
Automation of Jobs Fuels Overdose Deaths
The rise in opioid addiction has created an epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States. But what increases the risk that people develop the disorder in the first place?
Automation of the U.S. economy turns out to be a contributing factor, as workers lose good jobs to industrial robots and despair about being disengaged from the labor force, conclude researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale in a study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
Manufacturing jobs, often in unionized industries, used to be a major route to the middle class. But millions of factory jobs disappeared as U.S. companies moved operations overseas. Compounding the job losses, corporate employers began installing robots in their remaining domestic operations. Automation was blamed in one study for eliminating more than 700,000 jobs and causing wage stagnation in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Prior research has connected the flight of manufacturing to increasing deaths from drug overdoses. Now, the new study specifically ties technology – measured as an increase in robots per 1,000 workers – to the increase in overdose deaths.
The men who are most affected by the rise of automation are in their prime working years, and they are concentrated in more industrialized areas. Automation accounted for nearly one in five of their overdose deaths in manufacturing counties. For women, automation was responsible for one in 10 overdose deaths in manufacturing counties. …Learn More
May 6, 2021
Growing Job Demands Fall Harder on Some
As technology transforms the work world, jobs that were once routine might now require good interpersonal skills or the ability to quickly adjust to the situation at hand.
The people bearing the brunt of these challenges are the same people who were already at a disadvantage in the labor force: workers who never attended college.
New research on more than 700 occupations found that the types of jobs held by workers with only a high school education have become more difficult in recent years, which has sharply limited their job opportunities. The opposite is true for college graduates, whose jobs have gotten easier, opening up new opportunities for them.
“The changing nature of work over the past 15 years may have deepened inequality across educational groups,” according to the study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
The data for this research came from an occupational database, as well as a one-time survey fielded by RAND in 2018 that asked workers to assess their current mix of natural abilities – as distinct from skills learned on the job – in four areas. The first area is cognitive abilities, which include communication and mathematical acuity. Physical abilities range from strength to flexibility. Sensory abilities include hearing and depth perception. Psychomotor refers to hand-eye coordination and fast reaction times.
The researchers first identified the abilities required to do more than 700 jobs held by the workers in the survey, as detailed in the federal government’s occupational database, and compared the current requirements with the 2003 requirements for each job.
The abilities required of workers with no more than a high school degree increased in all four categories. Construction workers are a good example. Their need for writing proficiency has increased dramatically. And today’s warehouse workers must move at breakneck speed to keep up with the sophisticated technology being used to fill orders for overnight delivery.
Contrast these workers to the college graduates, whose job requirements have lessened in three of the four categories. Only their need for sensory abilities, such as hearing and depth perception, has increased – and not by as much as the workers who didn’t go to college.
The researchers also found that the shifting job demands have very different implications for each group’s employment potential. …Learn More
January 28, 2020
Education Could Shield Workers from AI
Not so long ago, computers were incapable of driving a car or translating a traveler’s question from English to Hindi.
Artificial intelligence changed all that.
Computers have advanced beyond the routine work they do so efficiently on assembly lines and in financial company back offices. Today, major advances in artificial intelligence, namely machine learning, have opened up a new pathway to expanding the tasks computers can do – and, potentially, the number of workers who may lose their jobs to progress over the next 20 years.
Machine learning works this way. A computer used to identify a cat by following explicit instructions telling it a cat has pointy ears, fur, and whiskers. Now, a computer can rapidly analyze and synthesize vast amounts of data to recognize a cat, based on millions of images labeled “cat” and “not-cat.” Eventually, the machine “learns” to see a cat.
But is this technological leap fundamentally different than past advances in terms of what it will mean for workers? And what about older workers, who arguably are more vulnerable to progress, because they have less time to see the payoff from updating their outmoded skills?
The answer, according to a third and final report in a series on technology’s impact on the labor market, is that advances in machine learning are likely to affect all workers – regardless of age – in the same way that computers have over the past 40 years.
And the dividing line, according to the Center for Retirement Research, will not be age. The dividing line will continue to be education: job options are expected to narrow for workers lacking a college degree or other specialized training, while jobs requiring these credentials will expand. …Learn More
December 17, 2019
Older Workers Ride Out Computer Age
The computer revolution, unleashed in the 1970s, has not stopped. Minicomputers replaced mainframes, and IBM introduced its personal computer. Then came the Internet, laptops, robots, iPhones, and increasingly intelligent software that can drive cars and discern music preferences.
Continual technological change has reshaped and regenerated the economy several times over, creating new types of jobs unimaginable a few years earlier. But the past four decades have also been tumultuous for the workers who were either replaced by machines or couldn’t keep up with the evolving demands of their jobs.
This is a pressing issue for the older workers who would benefit from working longer to improve their retirement finances. An erosion in their physical stamina or mental agility conceivably makes them more vulnerable to losing out to progress. And it can be difficult for people who have invested years in a job to train for and find new employment.
But a new study of labor force trends by the Center for Retirement Research finds this has not been the case. The computer age has had about the same impact on workers over age 55 as it has had on the labor force overall.
Two factors have proved essential to whether people – whatever their age – have had job security in this period of change: whether the work is routine and whether it requires a college education.
Since the 1970s, job options have narrowed for many workers who did not attend college, because computers have been especially good at rapidly and tirelessly performing the routine tasks this group’s work often entails. Examples are the computerized financial transactions that replaced back-office workers who entered the data manually and the robots inserted into assembly lines. The more routine a worker’s job, the more vulnerable he is to being replaced by a machine.
The upshot is that this segment of the labor force is shrinking: roughly a third of U.S. workers hold routine jobs currently, down from more than half in 1979. Nevertheless, the magnitude of this decline has been roughly the same for workers over 50 as for the labor force overall, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
In contrast, computerization has not affected the demand for non-routine work that is physical in nature, such as construction and food preparation. These jobs typically do not require a college education either, but it has been virtually impossible to program computers to do non-repetitive work. “The rules governing our innate abilities are a mystery,” and this has protected jobs that emphasize uniquely human abilities, the researchers said.Learn More
December 3, 2019
Workers, Machines and Constant Change
Anyone who drives on the nation’s toll roads has used a job-eliminating device: electronic tollgates.
Unemployment due to new technologies – and workers’ resistance to them – are as old as the industrial revolution. In the early 1900s, glassblowers were replaced by mechanized bottle makers. Today, autoworkers are no longer necessary to bolt car parts to carriages – robots do it with speed and precision. Toll takers are the latest disappearing breed.
Workers who lose their jobs to progress face painful transitions, and pessimists throughout history have warned about technologies increasingly rendering human effort obsolete. Indeed, jobs can seem to vanish overnight after an entire industry or occupation adopts a laborsaving machine, presenting displaced individuals with difficult choices. They must either invest in a new skill or move into a low-skill, lower-paying job.
But in the long arc of history, technology is continually creating new jobs to replace the old ones.
“The cycle of job destruction and creation has produced a labor force where, over the long run, workers have generally found jobs – albeit jobs that largely did not exist 100 years ago,” concludes the Center for Retirement Research in the first of three reports on technology’s impact on older workers for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The changing nature of work encourages new forms of growth by expanding the economic pie. For example, about a third of U.S. workers used to be on the farm before being largely replaced by agricultural machinery like combines and threshers, the report said. But during and after World War II, new technologies adopted by industry supplied manufacturing and office jobs to the farmers who had migrated to the cities to work. Wages rose and the economy grew rapidly during this period of unprecedented abundance.
Another way that technology helps the economy is by making goods cheaper to produce and buy, freeing up demand for other products. For example, Americans spend 15 percent of their budgets on food – less than half of what they spent in 1900 before farms became fully mechanized. More money for cell phones. …Learn More