On April 9th, Brookings Metro Senior Fellow and Policy Director Mark Muro testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about the need to expand the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) mission to adapt to disruptions caused by technological change.
As it stands, the agency plays an essential role supporting economic adjustment and resilience in places across the country. The need for the EDA to pay attention to automation and artificial intelligence (AI) follows from the breadth of technology’s reach combined with their uneven impacts across tasks, occupations, workers, and industries. These uneven effects have hit home in a variety of ways across communities, similar to such recognized EDA concerns as foreign competition, factory shutdowns, or corporate restructuring.
So while automation and AI technology will surely benefit the nation in the aggregate and in its most-educated urban centers, research from Muro and others find that the disparate effects on places will likely hit home in disruptive, locally varied ways that roil local labor markets, depress hiring, or necessitate arduous community transitions. These anticipated local effects need to be recognized and addressed—and the EDA is better positioned than any other federal agency to take them on.
In response, Muro suggests six policy actions for Congress:
- Make a major, comprehensive investment in the EDA by raising the agency’s authorized funding level significantly, so as to increase its ability to support communities’ efforts to build strong economies.
- Explicitly name automation as an economic disruption eligible for EDA economic adjustment assistance.
- Reaffirm the EDA’s commitment to regional full employment, especially to facilitate worker-adjustment in hard-hit communities.
- Require all funded Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) plans to incorporate analysis of emerging technologies’ impacts on local people, firms, and economy to set strategies to proactively embrace new trends.
- Empower the EDA to launch an interagency program to help communities implement strategies for addressing the effects of automation, AI, and emerging technology adoption, with a focus on modernizing services and maximizing co-work with new technologies.
- Expand the scope of the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms program to help companies adapt to disruptive new technologies.