“A few people here, a few people there. But it all adds up.”
By James Murray:
Anyone who pays any attention knows that something unusual is happening to employment. Good full time jobs are disappearing, being replaced by lower paying and part time jobs. Experts and especially politicians have explanations and excuses: Offshoring to lower labor countries, excessive rules and regulations, illegal aliens, lack of education in the workforce…. The list goes on and on.
What I rarely hear: automation. When most people hear “automation,” they think “robots.” Most robots are dedicated and expensive and don’t replace that many people.
“Automation” or computer control is what gets the majority of the jobs, and it is not all that obvious.
E-mail is a great example. Almost everyone uses e-mail. Before e-mail, there was “snail mail.”
Every month, people sent you bills, magazines, catalogs, fliers, etc., and a guy in a truck came around once a day and stuffed your mail box full. You wrote checks, put them in envelopes, added stamps, and put them back in the USPS system to go back to your vendors.
Today, I get an average of two pieces of mail a month, mostly fliers that go to everyone in the neighborhood. I can’t remember the last piece of first class mail that I received. The USPS has half the employees it had a few years ago, and its business is basically a package delivery service and a deliverer of junk mail.
However, it is not just the loss of direct jobs. The USPS uses a lot less gas, trucks, tires, equipment, power, etc. All that reduction filters down to other vendors that supply the USPS.
The USPS has lost about 200,000 nicely paid employees since its peak. Since the losses were scattered over the total US, and over time, it wasn’t really all that noticeable. If some US company laid off 200,000 people at once, the uproar would be tremendous.
Even less noticed are the other people affected. People no longer buy envelopes because they don’t use them anymore. The amount of paper used in correspondence has dropped. Workers in forestry, paper mills, trucking, etc. all take a hit.
In addition, 200,000 or more people that would have a good paying jobs don’t have a job with the USPS and have to find something else to do.
It’s not just the USPS. Look at banking. It wasn’t all that long ago that you got paid, went to the bank, made a deposit, got some cash and went home, and wrote out checks to pay bills. Today, your salary is direct deposited, you get cash from an ATM, and pay bills on line. You have little need to ever go inside a bank, and branch banking is taking a hit. All those people that worked in a branch bank that got closed are unemployed.
Again the loss is not all that apparent. A few people here, a few people there. But it all adds up.
This goes on all throughout the economy. Accountants are being replaced by on line tax services. Lawyers are being replaced by automated discovery systems.
Kindle and Amazon came along and killed the bookstores. With a Kindle, you can buy a book on line at 3 AM in minutes and never talk to a human. The people working in forestry, in paper mills, in print shops that printed the books, in warehouses and distribution centers, in trucking, and in bookstores that sold the books all took a hit.
There’s a processing plant in California that makes 7.5 tons of guacamole per hour. It is run by a computer and has one person that oversees the operation. Guacamole is ultra-simple to make, but it is much cheaper to buy than to pay someone at a restaurant to make it. So, the person that made it on site is now gone.
Most of the food that is served in restaurants today has some kind of preprocessing. Steaks are cut, trimmed and proportioned and come in boxes. Potatoes are baked off site and just warmed in restaurants. Salads are prepackaged in a facility and delivered ready to serve. If you go to a place with a salad bar, all that stuff comes in prepackaged. The employees just put it in the bins.
At one point in time, if you were hungry, you could go wash dishes for a meal. Today, a machine washes the dishes and there are no human dishwashers. You may find a small restaurant that has a human dishwasher but they are disappearing as equipment gets cheaper and labor gets more expensive.
4,100,000 people make their living driving. Driverless cars, trucks, and buses are not coming; they are already hitting the streets today. Within a decade probably 50% of the driving jobs will disappear. That’s a lot of good paying jobs gone.
People say all the time, “I’m not worried, they will never automate my job.” But that is not the point. Everyone with a job depends on customers with money to make their paycheck. If the customers don’t have money, eventually, you will be out of a job also. The people that had bookstores didn’t do anything wrong. But the Kindle and Amazon ran them out of business.
The problem with automation is that it is so flexible and evolving so quickly and there is no one place where you can control it. If you had a factory somewhere that was causing such job loss, you could go weld the doors shut and stop the carnage. But automation is everywhere. It’s affecting everything. And it’s growing.
If, 15 years ago when most home computer modems were dial-up, you’d told people how important computers were going to be today, they wouldn’t have believed you. They had no way to imagine the power of smartphones, NetFlix, Amazon, Facebook, etc. They certainly would not have believed that driverless cars would be on the road and working. A large percentage of people today still don’t.
Predicting what will happen in the future is useless, other than to say that automation will continue to take human jobs.
Today, it is technically possible to completely automate a fast food restaurant, and it will happen and sooner than we think. When you consider how many fast food places there are in the US and how many people they employ, the numbers are huge. By James Murray.
But we’re not prepared. Read… Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution to Wipe Out 4 Million Jobs
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