A diagnostic scan of the economy along Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range turns up several problems, and several causes of those problems. But nothing has contributed to more job losses in the Iron Range economy than the improved technology and automation of the iron mining industry.
Those same changes literally saved the industry, while reducing the number of people employed in mining by more than two-thirds since 1980.
Automation isn’t done yet, however.
I’ve written about this before, specifically about automation in local mining and also the trend toward automation detected by business leaders like Mark Cuban. You’d be hard pressed to find an expert who doesn’t see dramatic change coming in the way Americans work. These changes will require tremendous adjustments to how we prepare people for work and how we maintain society when many traditional jobs are gone.
One new study seems to drive home the point. Produced by the firm PwC, the study shows that the advanced economy of the United States could lose up to 38 percent of its jobs within 15 years. Again, globalization and competition with cheap labor overseas is an entirely separate problem. Globalization might justify automation to some, but companies seem constitutionally incapable of passing up the cost savings of automation regardless.
I was sitting in my chair yesterday morning before work and nearly spewed my raisin bran when the news anchor read that statistic. There was no change in her affect. The very next story was about some new app coming out, followed by the arrival of the transport service Uber in Duluth. (Uber, by the way, has been testing self-driving cars).
The idea of 38 percent of American jobs being vulnerable to automation isn’t even that revolutionary. One could extrapolate recent trends and simply guess at a similar number.
So the question is, what do we do? What can we do to protect millions of American workers and their families who will be affected by technological advances in retail, clerical, health care, industrial, manufacturing, and transportation automation?
Well, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, automation currently plays no part in the economic planning of the Trump Administration.
“It’s not even on our radar screen,” said Mnuchin in an Axios interview. [It’s] 50-100 more years [away]. I’m not worried at all [about robots displacing humans in the near future,] he said, adding: “In fact I’m optimistic.”
Perhaps we’ll soon learn why the current government is so optimistic about automation in our daily lives?
Meantime, cars that can parallel park themselves are becoming common, which is a harbinger of the layoff of millions of truck drivers before my kids graduate from college.
Planning for this seems like a good idea, no?
Chuck Marohn and I explored the past, present, and future of job creation in our regular radio series and podcast “Dig Deep” on Northern Community Radio. If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, produced by my friend Heidi Holtan, you really should.