Multimedia: On ‘Economic Polarization’

Will the future labor market leave low skilled workers behind? MIT’s David Autor offers insight.


The Roosevelt Institute’s Next American Economy project is designed to gather “a group of academics, business leaders, organizers, and technologists” to “envision the long-term economic and political future of the United States.” They made several videos at a recent convening. “What followed was a series of prescient, thoughtful, and often hilarious three to four minute speculations on topics ranging from the gig economy to the future of finance, from imminent civil war to the transformation of Google into a car company, and many more,” said the project’s blog.

The first of these is with David Autor, who discusses “economic polarization” and whether we will run out of jobs:

The truth is something else from either of those polar point of view. We can have both scarcity and abundance and they can both be problems. On the scarcity side, the jobs we get to do, these abstract jobs, they are only gonna get more interesting [and] there will be more and more of the creativity. That makes people who can do these things scarce and their wages high. I don’t think they can be replaced any time in the future but they get to keep moving upward. At the same time, we can actually have an intolerable abundance of low-skilled labors. As machinery displace people form the service tasks, from the security tasks and these driving task, in lesser able to educate to move upward, they will create an abundance that reduces their earning power.

…The challenge we face is one of distribution. That although there will be growth, there will be opportunity, but it will not be equally shared.

In their blog, Roosevelt’s project meeting also tries to identify what influences the future to ensure better public policies. It finds interesting statistics such as:

  • 79 percent of participants believe “technological change will persist and will be big enough to disrupt business-as-usual.”
  • 42 percent believe “a new paradigm of work is emerging and will change the nature of jobs for a large percentage of the population.”
  • A total of 74 percent believe that even if an entrepreneurship booms leads to productivity growth it will not lead to job creation.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) believe that if inequality trends continue, the political backlash will be so extreme that our current system will change drastically in the next 25 years.

What’s your take on the future of employment and labor market? Leave us a comment or check out more related videos here.

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