Robotics Technology, Automation Make ‘Labor Shortage’ Even More Untenable

John Vinson's picture

By John Vinson

John is a Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A long-time advocate of conservation and responsible use of natural resources, John is president of the American Immigration Control Foundation.

The writer's views are his own. 

November 26, 2014

One of the favorite mantras of mass immigration advocates, which they endlessly repeat, is “labor shortage.” To hear them tell it, we have always had a labor shortage and always will – even though we’ve had the highest sustained level of immigration in our history for more than two decades. Somehow the “shortage” always remains, which is used as justification for even more immigration.

Most interesting, while this “shortage” is going on, we have no shortage, but an abundance of Americans who can’t find jobs. The official rate of unemployment is 5.8 percent, but this measure grossly understates the problem because it does not count as unemployed people who have given up looking for work. Nor does it count people who seek full-time employment, but can only find part-time work. Include the two latter categories with the official rate, and the total comes to 11.5 percent.

Further, the wages of Americans who have jobs are not rising, and often are relatively low, and median household income has declined since 2000. Half of American wage earners make less than $28,000 a year. Competition from immigrants plays a role in the suppression of income, particularly for lower-income workers.

Robot bartender.

Another source of job competition looms before American workers: automation – specifically, in many cases, robotic technology. A recent report, “Fast Forward 2030: the Future of Work and the Workplace,” concluded that as the consequence of automation “nearly 50 percent of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025.” Its findings were remarkably similar to that of a study done at Oxford University in Britain of 700 American occupations. Published last year, it found that 47 percent of existing U.S. jobs (a total of 60 million) are “at risk” of being automated within the next 10 to 20 years.

Some say not to worry because technological change in the past created new jobs while eliminating old ones. The advent of the automobile put buggy makers out of business, but it also offered them jobs as assembly line workers in auto plants. Even so, can we assume that the same will happen with the current technological advances?

Certainly some people can find new jobs as robotic designers and maintenance technicians. The problem with these opportunities, unlike many that innovation created in the past, is that they require skill levels and aptitudes that many people don’t have. If current immigration policies continue, the Americans with those qualifications will face head-on competition from foreigners welcomed by firms seeking a cheap and docile workforce. This kind of competition is happening now as companies falsely claim that a shortage of qualified Americans impels them to hire foreign workers to do jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math.

With automation posing the challenges that it does, mass immigration, as it impacts the labor force, makes less sense than ever. Even agriculture, which supposedly needs foreign labor more than any other occupation, shows great potential for mechanizing its tasks. As the future unfolds, a shortage of workers may be far less a concern than a shortage of jobs for workers to do.

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