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The Coming Impact of the Robot Revolution

I will be the first to admit it. The Robot Revolution never came to mind when Amazon delivered my products with a drone. I’ll bet you never thought “Robot Revolution” when McDonald’s instituted their kiosk ordering system. Instead, we thought “how convenient” on both occasions. Today, you read about tens of thousands of driverless automobiles descending on the Interstate near your house. What do the above “advancements” have in common? They are all Robot Revolution, and MSN Money says it may result in the elimination of 55% of metropolitan jobs in the United States.

So, what is the Robot Revolution? Where will the impact be felt the most? Will it cost me my job? Money Examiners looked for answers and this is what we discovered.

There are some hard facts we have known for some time now. Economists predict wide-ranging job losses in the coming decades. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is making advancements by super-strides. Yesterday, the machinist at the Flint, Michigan Chrysler plant felt the impact. Today, it hears you order a double burger, prepares it and adds a Frosty. Tomorrow it drives a semi from Chicago to Denver. That’s the working stiff unemployed. He was replaced by a robotic arm.

Where will these job losses happen? Which parts of the country will be hit the hardest?

The manufacture of float glass may be part of the Robot Revolution
The manufacture of float glass may be part of the Robot Revolution

The Northeastern Rust Belt? That’s what we thought at first. It made sense. This stretch, roughly Buffalo to Milwaukee, was the center of American heavy industry. Steel mills sent their fire into Pittsburgh’s night sky. Detroit automakers built Ford trucks. Lately, this region is mostly a campaign speech for politicians who “didn’t forget about you,” and “will bring jobs back.” The other guy “shipped the jobs to China.”

Outsourcing of American jobs to foreign nations is a problem, but it isn’t the biggest problem. Encroaching job loss to automated systems is worse news for employees. But, we are learning it may be even more portentous for places a long way from Cleveland and Akron.

The latest expert analysis suggests places hardest-hit by upcoming automation advances are elsewhere. Areas with high concentrations of employment in food prep, and business office/administrative support will absorb the brunt of the Robot Revolution. This means jobs in Las Vegas and Riverside, Calif are in jeopardy! They are subject to automation at a clip of 63% and 65% respectively. Other places with a profile of employment indicating high job erosion due to automation are Louisville, Kentucky, Orlando, Florida, and El Paso, Texas.

Wait a minute! Is this just a matter of chasing money by dumping cost at the expense of middle management and skilled labor? In part, certainly. Fail to give the shareholders back rubs to your peril, Boss Man. However, the Robot Revolution is more of a threat to low-wage earners than to higher-earners. In its infancy, automation hurt the middle-class such as manufacturing professionals. Now, it’s after low-income jobs. When low-wage jobs disappear, there will be a new subset out of work. They’re lightly-educated. They weren’t earning very much money. Now they are making zip nada.

“Okay, this is good info for someone entering the job market. But, is there a silver lining? Where can I find a job to turn into a career?”

Those are good questions. It is always the best plan to find positives that you can exploit, rather than negatives to avoid. Some industries will be, if not completely immune to the Revolution, less impacted. Including higher-tech jobs in Silicon Valley, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. (Think Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham). The Boston-Cambridge area should be good, too. Many jobs in those places require creative social intelligence. That makes them hard to automate.

Of course, places like Cambridge and Silicon Valley are already prosperous today, at least relative to most places in the United States. That suggests America’s regional economic inequality will continue to become more pronounced. The University of California at Berkeley economist, Enrico Moretti said in his book, “The New Geography of Jobs”

“High-tech job centers like Silicon Valley are drawing in educated and talented people, and thus pulling them away from the rest of the country. This has implications not only for employment, but also for socioeconomic outcomes such as health, family stability, and crime.”

To put it another way, not everyone wants to (or can) pack up and move to San Jose. Does this mean 3,000 miles between California and North Carolina are fated to exist in a Dystopian wasteland? Is salvation at the hands of Katniss Everdeen and her quiver of Hunger Games arrows?

One hopes for better for the flyover states. But, there’s little doubt that a small number of cities offering good jobs for educated workers will have the best chance of thriving. Other areas will see jobs disappear as automated tech become even better at what it does.

This is, in many ways, a divided country even today. Just wait until the whole forgotten part of society gets its pink slips a million at a time.