What politicians aren't saying about declining manufacturing jobs

Posted August 9, 2016

With manufacturing employment steadily dropping and the trucking field predicted to be next, what is the state of automation today? (Deseret Photo)

Jobs are a major platform plank for both political parties this election, but neither side has addressed how automation has and will eliminate working-class jobs, observers have noted.

“Job losses due to automation and robotics are often overlooked in discussions about the unexpected rise of outside political candidates like (Donald) Trump and Bernie Sanders,” Moshe Vardi, an artificial-intelligence expert at Rice University, noted in a press release before the parties’ conventions.

Manufacturing in the U.S. has already been hit by the effects of automation, with its output at an “all-time high” even as its employment has been falling for longer than 30 years, Vardi stated.

And automation leads not just to job loss but widens class differences as well, Vardi stated. There’s evidence the declining middle class is tied to the rise of automation, and it's this “subsequent undercurrent of misery" from class differences "that is driving support of Trump,” Vardi continued.

However, GOP nominee Trump has attributed the loss of American manufacturing jobs to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, not the growing trend of automation in factories, Vox noted in an article highlighting the unawareness of politicians that robotics has had on jobs.

As much as 45 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated with technology, estimated McKinsey & Company in November.

The transportation field is likely to be the next impacted by automation, as self-driving cars catch on, GeekWire noted. Vardi told GeekWire in an email such automated transport could kill millions of jobs.

Vox dove deeper into this in another article, saying about 1.8 million truckers would be put out of a job once automated trucks were available. The technology is still years of software development and tests away, addressing how trucks would get on and off freeways and safely navigate city streets.

So far, automation has upset mainly jobs with routines based around “a narrow set of rule-based and repetitive tasks,” GeekWire noted. In the years to come, artificial intelligence is likely to disrupt less routine and more complex jobs, like journalism and medicine, it continued.

The Financial Times columnist Robin Harding, however, pointed out a disconnect between what people think robots are capable of and what roboticists know they’re capable of. Roboticists, he wrote, have a habit of being honest and even humble about the field.

“The robot brain is developing incredibly fast. The biggest problem is the hands that do the work,” Junji Tsuda, former president of Yaskawa Electric Corporation, told the Financial Times last year. “They’re not going to develop on an exponential curve, like computers. It’s going to be linear, steady growth.”

Computing-linked technology, such as artificial intelligence, is what has the highest potential for rapid advancement, Harding said.

“It is easier to imagine driverless cars routinely on the roads in the near future — largely a computing challenge — than it is to imagine robots on the pavement next to them,” Harding wrote. “Computers may displace a lot of drivers but it will be harder for robots to displace the postal workers.”

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  • Johnny Byrd Aug 10, 2016
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    Pay attention when reading.
    Another free Hillary add.

  • Skip Harris Aug 10, 2016
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    Those are silly, simplistic talking points that put on full display your ignorance of how business and the economy actually work. Your basic premise is that we should regress or halt progress to artificially maintain a status quo that you find acceptable? Very progressive of you. If Jim did what you suggest and not automate his processes or if all manufacturing was brought back to the US I can guarantee that you would be screaming about the price of goods. And those price increases would most hurt those who can least afford it. You are proposing solutions, you are regurgitating talking points that have no basis in reality, only feelings and emotions.

  • Mike Jones Aug 10, 2016
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    oh yeah the solution, stop consuming so much stuff, buy American made products unlike trumps made in China hats

  • Mike Jones Aug 10, 2016
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    sounds like he's blaming the left for forcing him to make more money with robots. Please explain how you agree with that?

  • Mike Jones Aug 10, 2016
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    Sounds like you're part of the problem here?

  • Jim Williams Aug 10, 2016
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    It is more complex that that Jeff. The article does make an excellent point. One of the businesses I own is a small Printed Circuit Board Manufacturer. Thirty years ago we had 125 people solder components on to a PCB. Now e have automated pick and place machines, and employ 10 manufacturing employees and our output has increased 4 fold. The government through their regulations and Democrat pandering to unions, has made workers into necessary liabilities instead of a productive resource. Before long, goods will be manufactured where they are consumed as labor rates will be negligible. Manufacturing workers will be like phone booths, typewriters and carbon paper: relics of the past.

  • Jeff Freuler Aug 9, 2016
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    This is nothing new as the manufacturing jobs have been down for many years now since the US has allowed a majority of the manufacturers to move to foreign countries