Yes, the robots are taking U.S. jobs, new study says

Robots are taking our jobs, with those in the manufacturing industry feeling the most impact, a new research report says.

For every robot per thousand workers, about six workers lost their jobs, according to economists Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, who conducted the study for the private, nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research.

That amounts to 670,000 manufacturing jobs lost during the period covered by the study: 1990 to 2007. In addition, wages fell by as much as 0.7 percent during that time.

Some workers in certain areas were more affected than others.  “Our measure of exposure to robots leverages the fact that commuting zones vary in their distribution of industrial employment, making some commuting zones more exposed to the use of robots than others,” the economists wrote.

For example, employment in Detroit has been greatly affected by robots, the study said. That’s because the auto industry has the largest share of robots, employing 39 percent of industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics. (Second is the electronics industry, with 19 percent.)

Last year, the same economists published a paper in which they were “more sanguine” about the effect of robots on jobs, the New York Times points out. They said last year that automation would lead to the creation of new, more complex jobs. But that paper was more conceptual, and this paper draws from actual data.

“The conclusion is that even if overall employment and wages recover, there will be losers in the process, and it’s going to take a very long time for these communities to recover,” Acemoglu told the NYT.

This new study comes after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week that artificial intelligence “taking over American jobs” was “not even on [his] radar screen,” prompting some ridicule from tech types. He said this possibility was 50 to 100 years away.

The Trump administration has mostly blamed trade and immigration for U.S. job losses, but there’s growing evidence that especially for blue-collar jobs, automation may be the bigger factor.

The study also predicted that job losses would continue because of the expected rise in the numbers of industrial robots.

Also last week, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report said 38 percent of U.S. jobs could be at risk of automation within about 15 years.


Photo: One of the many Kuka robots used in car assembly at the Tesla factory in Fremont is shown on Oct. 1, 2011. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)


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