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Report

What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy

Darrell M. West

Automation is appearing everywhere. Ready or not, innovations like robotics, computerized algorithms, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, medical sensors and machine-to-machine communications, 3-D printing, and autonomous vehicles will increasingly transform the global economy, even displacing many in the human workforce.

Today only 16 percent of students graduating high school are proficient in and interested in a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This fact underlines the potential consequences this new frontier presents for the workforce and the provision of health benefits, pensions, and social insurance. As automation and robots displace or replace workers, how can society adjust so as not to disrupt the delivery of social benefits like health care and pensions?

In a new paper, “What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy,” Darrell West tackles this question by offering creative solutions to dispensing social benefits while automation continues to rise. West proposes striking economic changes in order to restructure how our society delivers on the social contract, such as:

  • Separating the dispersion of health care, disability, and pension benefits outside of employment, offering workers with limited skills social benefits on a universal basis.
  • Mandating a basic income guarantee for a reasonable standard of living to combat persistent unemployment or underemployment posed by the automation economy.
  • Revamping the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to allow the benefit to support households in the grips of high unemployment.
  • Providing activity accounts for lifetime learning and job retraining to motivate the workforce to keep pace with innovation.
  • Offering incentives for volunteerism—beneficial for many people who in the future may not be able to provide for their families through regular employment but may still wish enrich their communities.
  • Encouraging corporate profit sharing to spread the benefits of improved productivity to the broader workforce.
  • Reforming the education curriculum to reflect the high premium STEM skills will offer employees in the future.
  • Expanding arts and culture for leisure time, ensuring that reduction in work will not eliminate chances for cultural pursuits.

“There needs to be ways for people to live fulfilling lives even if society needs relatively few workers,” West writes. Taking steps now in anticipation of the exciting new future that awaits will help people adapt to new economic realities.

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