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Job Automation and the Minimum Wage Debate 870

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-away-or-I-will-replace-you-with-a-very-small-shell-script dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article at FiveThirtyEight looks at the likelihood of various occupations being replaced by automation. It mentions President Obama's proposed increase to the federal minimum wage, saying big leaps in automation could reshape that debate. '[The wage increase] from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour could make it worthwhile for employers to adopt emerging technologies to do the work of their low-wage workers. But can a robot really do a janitor's job? Can software fully replace a fast-food worker? Economists have long considered these low-skilled, non-routine jobs as less vulnerable to technological replacement, but until now, quantitative estimates of a job's vulnerability have been missing from the debate.' Many minimum-wage jobs are reportedly at high risk, including restaurant workers, cashiers, and telemarketers. A study rated the probability of computerization within 20 years (PDF): 92% for retail salespeople, 97% for cashiers, and 94% for waitstaff. There are other jobs with a high likelihood, but they employ fewer people and generally have a higher pay rate: tax preparers (99%), freight workers (99%), and legal secretaries (98%)."
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Job Automation and the Minimum Wage Debate

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  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:25PM (#46579661)
    The PDF link is 72 pages long and in acrobat... you're welcome.
  • by Laxori666 (748529) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:25PM (#46579665) Homepage
    The higher the minimum wage, the more incentive there will be to automate those minimum-wage jobs. If it'd average out to $11/hr to have a robot do some cleaning, and the minimum wage is $10/hr, then a janitor willing to work for $10/hr will have a job. If the minimum wage goes to $12/hr, the robot will take the job instead.

    I read somewhere an essay written around the time the minimum wage was being increased a few decades ago. This was during a time when there were still elevator operators. The author predicted that after the increase, elevator operators would get phased out in favor of automated elevators. That probably would've happened anyway, but raising the minimum wage probably helped speed up that process.

    If it gets really bad there will be pressure to illegalize automation of certain classes of jobs.
    • by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579761) Journal

      I think will find is the very bottom it will be the last to go. The guy standing over the grill of the burgle have a job, the guy actually scrubbed the toilet will have a job. The person taking orders will be replaced of the machine, the facilities manager at least have to do things like keep inventory of paper products and such will be replaced by automatic reorders and machines. Essentially the jobs will be further deskilled.

      The very bottom rung earning minimum wage probably has less to worry the next rung up who earns a couple dollars above minimum wage today. The guy making 725 will certainly be making 10, the guy making 10 is going to get the pink slip.

    • by rmdingler (1955220) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579765)

      The higher the minimum wage, the more incentive there will be to automate those minimum-wage jobs. If it'd average out to $11/hr to have a robot do some cleaning, and the minimum wage is $10/hr, then a janitor willing to work for $10/hr will have a job. If the minimum wage goes to $12/hr, the robot will take the job instead.

      I know you're right in the grand scheme of things, esp. in corporate employment, but for a dollar an hour difference I will keep my human.

      I read somewhere an essay written around the time the minimum wage was being increased a few decades ago. This was during a time when there were still elevator operators. The author predicted that after the increase, elevator operators would get phased out in favor of automated elevators. That probably would've happened anyway, but raising the minimum wage probably helped speed up that process.

      Talking 'bout the good old days, when maybe you had to get up out of the recliner to change the TV channel, but there was none of that tiresome button-pushing in the elevator.

      If it gets really bad there will be pressure to illegalize automation of certain classes of jobs.

      I desperately hope they keep their humans at the massage parlor.

      • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:11PM (#46580019)

        I know you're right in the grand scheme of things, esp. in corporate employment, but for a dollar an hour difference I will keep my human.

        Why? It's a waste of human effort to be working for $10 an hour. Sure someone with no skills is willing to do it, but I think it makes more sense as a society to have only jobs that pay $20/hr, have all the other jobs done by robots, and have all those people learning new skills or just watching TV or something.

        I know "more jobs" is on the lips of every politician, but actually the goal should be less jobs (for humans to do). We should be focusing on maximizing production using the least resources including human effort. I know that for all of human history we've had to work hard to get the stuff we want/need, but at some point we may just be able to get what we need/want with minimal effort or no effort at all. No one will have any money, but luckily we won't need money to buy things anyway. An economic system that gives the biggest producers more money was important for incentivizing production, but one day we won't need to incentivize production if it no longer requires human effort to do so. Rationing limited resources will be the name of the game.

        • by rsilvergun (571051) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:36PM (#46580763)
          That's sorta the argument you'll hear. I saw an interview on Fox News years ago where they brought on an economist who explained he would combat automation by taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth. The host said, "But that's socialism" and he replied "that's right, I'm a socialist". The whole rest of the interview was the Host just trying to come to grips with the fact that the man just admitted he was a socialist. I think if he said he skinned babies for a living he'd have gotten less of a reaction.

          After 70 years of being told that Communism == Socialism == Hitler == bad it's just ingrained in American Society. It's really the only answer to automation. There just aren't enough jobs. The world _doesn't_ need ditch diggers, and we only need so many scientists even if everyone was the next Albert Eisenstein. But the notion that a job, any job, is better than no job is heavily ingrained in America.
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      A few decades ago was the 1980's maybe the 1970, push-button automatic elevators were introduced in 1894, outside of a niche market the job was already long dead by a few decades, a few decades ago

    • by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @05:33AM (#46582261) Homepage

      What you really mean to say is the higher the minimum wage the cheaper it will be to the chances (the psychopaths might lose and face the executioner) and go back to whips and overseers. The minimum wage in a sound democratic society will always be a properly survivable and rewarding wage, which provides for food, clothing, transport, accommodation and a reasonable level of entertainment.

      So, automation, easy problem, should robots pay tax and should that tax per robot be exactly the same as the minimum wage and measured in human work units. If the robot does the work of ten people, it pays taxes to the tune of 10 times the minimum wage. We are after all a society if human beings not robots. A society for the majority normal people and not a society for the minority psychopaths, no matter that they are currently running our society as visible by all the purposefully created faults they promote in our society.

  • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:33PM (#46579723) Homepage Journal

    Many minimum-wage jobs are reportedly at high risk, including restaurant workers, cashiers, and telemarketers. A study rated the probability of computerization within 20 years: 92% for retail salespeople, 97% for cashiers, and 94% for waitstaff...

    A few other jobs that were lost to technology:

    The knocker-up [wikipedia.org] was a person whose responsibility was to go out to people's houses and wake them up so they could get to work on time. Alarm clocks eliminated the need for them.

    Acoustic locators [wikipedia.org] were people who listened to acoustic mirrors to detect incoming aircraft before radar was invented.

    And sure, we can talk about buggy whips. The point is, quite a few jobs and entire industries no longer exist as a result of automation. We can start throwing our shoes at the machines like during the industrial revolution, or we can enjoy the benefits they bring us, accept the growing pains, and adapt to the new world. Personally I don't want to have to pay some guy to come knock at my window every morning so I can go to work. I hope I live long enough to talk to the younguns about all the ridiculous jobs that used to exist when I was their age.

    • by confused one (671304) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:39PM (#46579755)
      You missed the most geeky and relevant of jobs. Calculator (yes, it was a job title). Calculators crunched numbers to create all the tables used to estimate everything from taxes to rocket trajectories. Computers and digital calculators made the human job title "Calculator" obsolete.
    • I also think the knock-her-up angle is ripe for exploitation, but that witch who listened to mirrors wound up pwned by Snow White.
    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      Personally I don't want to have to pay some guy to come knock at my window every morning so I can go to work.

      I would pay for a cute gal to come knock at my window every morning, but not so I can go to work. Where do I look for that in the yellow pages, knock-her-up did you say?

    • by unimacs (597299)
      It is a bad thing if the jobs that disappear as a result are not being replaced by other jobs. I think that is becoming increasingly true.I feel we are in serious trouble in the long run unless the adaptation you're talking basically means socialization of the economy - which has pitfalls of its own.

      Not only will the poor have fewer options, but so will kids trying to find part time jobs, - part time jobs they use to help pay for their expenses while going to college. So now they can graduate in even mor
  • While the inevitable loss of more "menial" jobs (take no offense; I've had many myself) will suck for those affected, at some point we're going to end up with a civilization like in Star Trek TNG where people choose to work, as the provision of the basic necessities of life will have become largely automated. Of course, something "really bad" could happen before then (nuclear holocaust, plague, asteroid strike, supervolcano, gamma ray burst, etc.), but I hope someday we reach the point where robots handle the ugly bits and we all get to do whatever the hell we please without fear.
    • by cmdr_tofu (826352)

      I agree with your end goal, but if in our current economic model, the basic necessities of life (assuming we're talking stuff like taco Bell) were fully automated, former fast food workers would be unable to eat. The parent corporation has no business interest in operating a charity for their displaced workforce.
      I do still think minimum wage should be higher. It's expensive to live in this world.

    • by TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:54PM (#46579903)
      "at some point we're going to end up with a civilization like in Star Trek TNG"

      First --- I wish, that would be an incredible and ideal future.

      But society is based on power and control, both in government and private industry.

      Government and private industry simply isn't going to say "Dear commoners, robots will do everything and you don't need to work and you get a free ride" --- will never happen!

      And --- even if it did, look at what people with too much time on hands do to this world: crime, gangs, terrorists, cults, drug users --- most of societies ills are AVOIDED by making these people have jobs so they don't have free time.

      I'd love to get to a Star Trek TNG future, but the vast majority of the populace isn't going to start creating and researching or coding solutions to the world's problems in their spare time, which is why it won't work. And the power and authority would never support a free ride of "their creations" or their use of their power.
      • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:23PM (#46581071) Homepage

        Most of those problems exist now because too many people are in poverty and see no real prospect of improvement working within the system.

        Give thyem a decent lifestyle now and prospects to improve it within the law and you might be surprised how many will go that route instead.

  • America is boned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:40PM (#46579767)

    With the vehement anti-socialist thread that weaves throughout the American culture, the US will be one of the hardest hit by the coming automation age.
    More socialist countries will have a chance of moving to the age of leisure, while America, god bless her, will move to the age of the gutter.

    • by kbolino (920292)

      If you think America is not socialist, you need to stop reading propaganda.

      We have:

      Fixed income for the elderly and disabled (Social Security)
      Single payer health care for everyone over 65 (Medicare)
      Single payer health care for everyone under a certain income level (Medicaid)
      Health assistance for children of parents who don't qualify for Medicaid (SCHIP)
      Health assistance for people injured on the job (Workers' Compensation)
      Food assistance for everyone under a certain income level (SNAP)
      Direct payments to fam

  • by lordlod (458156) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:40PM (#46579779)

    I live in a country where the minimum wage is roughly $15USD. More crucially though, I live in an area with low unemployment so the practical minimum wage is considerably higher.

    What we have seen is changes like such as smaller retailers only have a single staff member on during the week. This means that when the staff member goes to the bathroom or gets lunch, the shop closes briefly. For larger retailers there is an ongoing shift towards self-checkouts, but as they are constantly pushing their costs this seems independent of wage levels.

    Other fields have seen similar pressure. Restaurants try and make do with less staff, warehouses focus more on minimising idle time and companies may consider how often they really need the bins empty.

    All of these are fundamentally positive changes.

    • by amiga3D (567632) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:28PM (#46580191)

      They can shove the self checkouts up their ass. I'm not scanning and bagging my own stuff. If it's one item or maybe two okay but I went to wally world about a year and a half ago and they pointed me at a self-checkout machine. I just looked at them and said they could check me out at a register or I'd just let them put the buggy full of shit I had back on the shelf while I drove over to Target. They didn't seem to like it much but they checked me on out. After I thought about it a while I really got more pissed and haven't been back to Walmart in the last 18 months. I don't miss the cheap bastards either. I'll spend a little more money not to be treated like shit.

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday March 26, 2014 @01:16AM (#46581541) Homepage Journal

        Heh. I greatly prefer self-checkout.

        I think it's mostly because I just don't like dealing with people. I'm not anti-social enough to refuse the exchange of pleasantries when I have to deal with someone, but I am anti-social enough that I really don't want to be bothered. Since I go through self-checkout 95% of the time (sometimes even waiting for a self-checkout lane when there's a staffed lane open), I also now find it vaguely creepy to have someone pawing through my stuff. I know that in either case the computers are tallying it all and my purchase history is being datamined, but I don't care about that. People looking through my stuff bothers me.

  • by Aviation Pete (252403) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:45PM (#46579825)
    Most of the low wage jobs have been / will be replaced by some self-service arrangement, and computerization will make it possible. Just think of the shop clerks which won't be needed when most selling is done online. Or the bank clerks - ATMs have replaced most already. Or the travel agents - online booking has made most obsolete already.

    Thinking of some 1:1 replacement of a human with a human-shaped machine is too simple. The replacement will be of outdated, job-heavy business models with self-service models.

  • The Luddites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Livius (318358) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:53PM (#46579893)

    ...were on to something. Not that mechanization is evil - it is progress. But what we're seeing now that we have not faced in the past is technology and automation advancing faster than society's capacity to restructure the economy so that everyone has an opportunity for some basic livelihood. Extremes of poverty and desperation are not a good alternative.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      Automation and mechanization have never produced mass unemployment and they have always resulted in great increases of standards of living. Why should it be different this time?

      • Re:The Luddites (Score:4, Insightful)

        by unimacs (597299) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:23PM (#46580635)
        Because automation in the past created as many unskilled jobs as it destroyed. I'm not sure that is still true.
        Because our economy is dependent on a continuously growing population and that is not a sustainable model in the long run.
        Because companies are willing to spend less and less on training.
        Because there is no longer a social contract. Companies making money will still lay off workers to satisfy Wallstreet
        Because higher education is becoming an enormous financial burden
        Because the unions that used to protect workers in the past have been decimated
        Because more and more of the money companies earn goes to the C-level executives
        Because a larger percentage of our population is too old to work
        Because it's has become cheaper and cheaper to move jobs and manufacturing overseas
  • by nebaz (453974) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:11PM (#46580021)

    Historically, some have speculated that with automation comes more and more leisure time, people not having to work because all of their needs have been fulfilled. What ends up happening in reality however (as we see now) is that productivity gains do end up with fewer people working but instead of more people working fewer hours, there are fewer people working more hours. What happens when there are not enough jobs to go around at all?

    People won't have enough money to pay for goods. Will labor be parcelled out so more people work less? Will there be a perceived "non-need" for so many unemployed people? What happens then? I can't imagine it will be a pretty sight.

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      Start with a low but sure guaranteed minimum weekly income, even if it's just $20 (on top of any income you normally get), and increase gradually as more and more stuff is automated. It's the perfect solution to a growing problem.
  • by holophrastic (221104) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:12PM (#46580041)

    This doesn't take into account the one thing that most futurists never take into account. Maybe I'm not the only one who wouldn't enjoy going to a restaurant and not being served. Maybe I'd see that as a low-quality dive, and wouldn't be interested in a steak from a conveyor belt. Maybe the reason that I often go out to restaurants is specifically to be served by someone else. Maybe that's half the value.

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      That's why I go pay for a cheap haircut from a cute girl instead of ebaying a Flowbie.

    • by unimacs (597299)
      I'd like to think that were true, but if most people's wages are falling and they have a choice of going out to eat at an automated restaurant or not going out to eat at all, they'll eat at the automated restaurant. Or they'll go to the restaurant with real wait staff on very special occasions but that's it.

      I'm sure many people felt that way about gas station attendants and for awhile lots of stations still had full service pumps. Over time though, people got used to pumping their own gas and saw the att
  • Only in America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:34PM (#46580745)

    Would an abundance of goods with no requirement for people to work their butts off making them would be considered a problem. What is wrong with just letting people enjoy fruit of the modern civilization without considering our collective wealth a downside? Plenty of people will still find a way to work in order to afford more exclusive stuff line posh houses, luxury vacations or whatever. Lots more would find something productive to do just out of boredom. For everyone else, we should just encourage responsible birth control in the sense that if you can not even find your own place in society you are not in the position to teach your children to do the same.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)

      A naive thought. When people don't work for what they have, they take it for granted. Very quickly, it goes from being something nice, to something that they expect, to something that they demand.

      This is just Cloward-Piven's strategy here at home. Cloward and Pivens were a married couple of radical sociology professors at Columbia University back in the '60's who advocated collapsing our economic system by overloading the welfare system. But wait, that could never happen. Hey come to think of it, didn't

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