Automation and a Jobless Future

The greatest threat to American jobs in this decade isn’t foreign competition. Although companies shipping jobs to Mexico or China make an easy target for the Trumps and Sanders of the world, the real threat is automation.

In Silicon Valley and SF, self-driving cars are everywhere. Google, Uber and others are testing their fleets of prototypes on local roads every day. This wave is coming, and though it hasn’t yet crested and may take longer to get here than we might think today, when it comes it’s going to hit hard. 


Most common jobs in each state, 2014. Source: NPR

My lifetime will see a second radical change in the American jobs market. The first happened at the end of the 20th century, when hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs moved abroad or were automated themselves. This time, the pool of jobs at risk is far larger. Truck drivers, cab / ridesharing drivers and municipal transit operators may be the first affected. But any job that’s largely routine could come next, and that includes many white collar functions like certain routine surgeries and legal work.

We saw in 2017 the political and cultural ramifications of structural changes to the economy. This second wave could be even worse. Managing the economic and political fallout of what today seems like an inevitable event will be one of this generation’s greatest challenges.