Automation and Pessimism

Automation is, we would say, generally good. It frees human workers from work that is dull, dirty, and dangerous. It lowers costs for consumers and increases opportunities for entrepreneurs.

But our jobs aren’t under threat from automation right now. New research suggests that people whose jobs are in jeopardy have a different — and much more pessimistic — view of the situation. Julian Jacobs, a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics, says, “Americans whose occupations have the highest automation potential tend to have a dark and cynical view of politics, the economy, the media, and humanity. ”

Depression over robot overlords?

Jacobs’s subjects weren’t responding to the knowledge that their jobs were likely to be taken over by machines. He looked at a 2016 report that identified the occupations most likely to be taken over by robots:

Highly likely:

  • Production
  • Food service
  • Transportation

Moderately likely:

  • Administrative
  • Maintenance
  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Personal care
  • Protective services
  • Health support
  • Sales
  • Facilities care

He then harmonized research on world news and political positions with those occupations.

Sort of.

It appears that he boiled it down to demographics. What segments of the population, in terms of ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, etc. were most likely to be in the occupations which were most likely to be taken over by robots?

Impoverished Hispanic women with no college education? Okay, then how did impoverished Hispanic women with no college education see the world?

Correlation is not causation

This is not completely convincing. Not only is there a correlation vs. causation question, but the correlation doesn’t seem that strong.

The categories of occupations are very broad. For example, 69.4% of production line workers, the most at-risk on the list, are white. 50.9% are male. At an average of $29,000 a year, they may not be rich but they’re not impoverished. Where are the impoverished Hispanic women?

Food service workers are also high on the list of susceptible occupations, but 60.9% are white. 21% have a B.A. And a saucier is in a different position from a cafeteria cook or a fast-food clerk.

To finish out the Highly Likely group, 66.3% of transportation workers are white, 76% are male, 22% have a B.A., and the men in the industry average over $55,000 a year.

Pew Research tells us that “The most common occupations of Hispanic women are office and administrative support positions.” These are also the most common positions for white women. “Hispanic women are more likely than non-Hispanic women to be employed in blue-collar occupations such as building, grounds cleaning and maintenance (10% versus 2%); food preparation and serving related jobs (9% versus 6%); production (8% versus 4%); and personal care and service occupations (7% versus 5%).”

Added all together, these numbers may support a claim that Hispanic women are more threatened by robots than white women, but we can’t take it much further than that.

We can also see some characteristics shared by those jobs other than their susceptibility to automation.

The question is worthy of further research and we will watch it with interest.

In the meantime, if you feel pessimistic because your Indramat motion control is in need of service and support, we can help. Call us for immediate assistance.