Jobs, Work & Robots - the Future 
By Walter Sorochan Doctor of Health & Safety Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted May 23, 2016; Updated November 15, 2021.  Disclaimer

There has been a lot of talk about loss of jobs in United States due to outsourcing manufacturing plants overseas. And conversely, politicians claiming that they will bring back jobs that were previously lost. This article explores both of these issues and searches for the truth. Jobs have become a hot topic. 

Jobs-work crisis in pandemic era 2021: All of a sudden, we have lots of jobs but we are short of workers! Workers do not want to work! Most of the jobs are low paying and workers want more pay. The pandemic lay-offs have been countered by government subsidy pay-checks that have affected worker brain-mind sets. Triggering free lunches!

A shortage of truck drivers, in the unloading of shipping containers from China, has stalled the unloading of goods on port docks in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Delays in unloading container ships has caused shortages of supplies that, in turn, provoked price increases and runaway inflation. This has become a political-economic-human crisis.

Why do workers not want to work? The answer is confusing and confounding. Has receiving an unemployment check each month given rise to the unemployed thinking that this is a better way to live than going to work each day and having a purpose in life? Or improving their job-skills and themselves? Does such thinking change the nature of work? Will a worker shortage eventuate in robots displacing humans? Are there free lunches or does one have to work to eat and survive?

Or is worker shortage a symptom of a deeper social-political issue? Perhaps one of a silent revolt revolt against the political system and social order?


US Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] Projections:  Stebbins: jobs disappearing 2016

"More than 90 million Americans work in jobs that require little to no prior experience and less than a bachelor’s degree. These positions tend to provide needed training on the job. In some cases, a two-year associate’s program is all that is required.

A low educational requirement and a lack of specialization means these jobs are easy to get. However, this also means workers in these fields tend to be poorly compensated. The typical worker in the vast majority of the fastest disappearing middle-skill jobs has an annual salary of less than $40,000.

 "In 2018, an estimated 700,000 workers were hired in the retail industry as seasonal Xmas employees, the most since 2015. But as thousands of workers are facing layoffs now that the holiday season is over, even permanent employees at large retailers throughout the United States are experiencing drastic cuts in hours, making it harder for many low-paid workers to make ends meet."  Sainato: US workers face massive layoffs 2019

Another significant downside to these low-skill jobs is that a lack of specialization typically translates to a greater exposure to replacement by new technology. The now-widespread use of computers and the Internet for commerce and communication has resulted in hundreds of thousands of layoffs, from the post office to brick-and-mortar retailers.

Automation and computing will also continue to contribute to sharp declines in certain middle-class jobs. The need for computer operators is steadily decreasing, as is demand for typist jobs and office machine operators.

The most dramatic change in employment due to the Internet will be among postal workers. The U.S. Postal Service has seen use of postal service plunge as Americans switch from physical mail to email, and as businesses now conduct transactions online. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of full-time postal workers fell from over 700,000 to 487,000, and the service will likely continue to contract for years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] projects a nearly 34% plunge in the number of Postal Service mail sorters and processors, for example, by 2024.

Outsourcing of the country’s manufacturing jobs outside the United States is also a factor. For example, the number of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline by 13% as many of those jobs will move overseas. Some specific occupations in the field, such as those working on molding, core-making, and casting machines, will likely shrink by 25% within the next decade."

robotwarehouse The Painful Evidence is that Middle Class Jobs have been disappearing: "The Wall Street Journal, reporting on a Georgetown University study, concludes that "many middle-wage occupations, those with average earnings between $32,000 and $53,000, have collapsed." Collapsed. High-wage occupations in technology, medicine, and finance are booming, and so are low-wage occupations in food service, retail, and personal care. But middle-income positions are fading away [as reflected in the warehouse service sector]. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $32,000 per year is nursing. Manufacturing, once the backbone of mid-level employment, continued to decline in 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 18 percent of all displaced workers in 2011-13 were in manufacturing." Buchheit: Jobs disappearing 2016  Osborne: Future of Employment

The jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty — education, construction, social services, transportation, administration — have been declining since the 2009 recession, especially in the northeast United States. At the national level, jobs gained are paying 23 percent less than jobs lost. Federal Reserve Bank

While middle class jobs are disappearing today, the prediction for the near future is that professional jobs will also change or be displaced.  Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, in their book: The Future of Professions, predict the decline of today’s professions and describes the people and systems that will replace them. In an Internet society, we will neither need nor want doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, lawyers, and many others, to work as they did in the 20th century. Instead, ‘increasingly capable systems’ — from tele-presence to artificial intelligence — will bring fundamental change in the way that the ‘practical expertise’ of specialists will be made available to society in the future. The authors challenge the ‘grand bargain’ — the arrangement that grants various monopolies to today’s professionals. They argue that our current professions, doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, consultants, lawyers and many others are antiquated, opaque and no longer affordable, and that the expertise of their best is enjoyed only by a few. In their place, they propose six new models for producing and distributing expertise in society.



Auto makers early in the auto industry displaced manual labor with robots on the assembly lines. Tesla car builder has displaced workers with robots in illustration on the left.







Tesla car factory & robots; length = 4:54 mns.

Source: Tesla car robots

robot waiter


Other industries have displaced repetitive manual and even low pay service workers with robots. Article by Skidelsky: Rise of robots is no longer active.   In 2015, food service employee expecting to get a $15 per hour wage, may get a temporary increase in wages only to be displaced by a robot. This has already happened in China.  The illustration on the right shows robots carrying food to a person in a Chinese restaurant.





robotphionix Restaurant workers at McDonald's are seeking a minimum wage of $15 an hour and increased benefits. Meanwhile, the Ex-president and CEO of McDonald’s (MCD) company, Edward Rensi, said on May 26, 2016, that a $15 minimum wage would cost jobs as it would lead to greater automation. Rensi explained: “I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday, and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry — it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries — it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe.” Such automation has not yet caught on in United States, but it is being explored in Phoenix, Arizona by a McDonald' s restaurant [image on right above].

The graph below displays worker jobs that will be displaced by robots:


There are two differences now between the economy and jobs of the past and today: "(1) In the past technology created middle-class jobs, manufacturing jobs, white-collar jobs, HIGHER-PAYING jobs. Now the jobs are at the extremes, either high-level or low-level, with tech-related jobs on the higher end and service-related jobs on the lower end. And Globalization has outsourced middle-income jobs, not only from rich to poor countries, but also from one developing nation to another, as, for example, from China to Vietnam. The World Economic Forum suggests that we're "on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution" in which "smart systems" in our homes, factories, farms, and entire cities will help get our work done." Buchheit: Jobs disappearing 2016  And many persons will be working at jobs for five years or less instead of working 20 or more years at a job.

mcdonalds-robot Oxford University researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne in their daunting landmark study forecast what is to come. "They estimate that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at “high risk” of being taken over by robots in the next decade or two. And we’re not talking about just production and service jobs requiring more low-level skills. Affected jobs include store greeter on left, accountants, physicians, lawyers, and architects, loan officers, tax preparers, paralegals, and even roofers are at risk. Even more susceptible are low-skill-level jobs such as retail cashiers and salespeople, telemarketers, toll booth operators, and postal workers. Even professional drivers (truck, bus, taxi) are at risk.  Automation in the future will mainly substitute for “low-skill and low-wage” jobs."

Cultural shifts in jobs and work:

"A two-year study from McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2030, intelligent agents and robots [automation] could eliminate as much as 30 percent of the world’s human labor, displacing the jobs of as many as 800 million people.

Could such a shift cause fear and concern, especially for the world’s vulnerable countries and populations?"

McKinsey suggests that people will need to be re-educated in terms of having an open mind and mind-set to retooling.  We need to streamline the current public school and university educational systems to evolve continuous learning skills for children, teens and adults. Politicians need to give these suggestions top priority now and not wait 10 or 20 years to do so.  Manyik: Future of jobs 2017

Applying this information in 2016 to United States where the official unemployment rate [ click for more information ] is projected closer to ‘full employment’, there are still a host of Americans not working at descent paying jobs — more than one-third of the population, in fact.  Although widespread automation is set to wipe out millions of jobs, legislators, business, and political leaders seemingly have zero idea of how to deal with the fallout. 

What’s most troubling about all these future changes is that advances in technology and computerization have outpaced our ability to find new uses for labor and people. In other words, automation has replaced people at a faster rate than the demand for products and services has grown .... meaning the demand for skills has lagged. Since the number of workers with higher education degrees has exploded, many of these higher-skilled workers are accepting jobs traditionally performed by less educated, low-skilled workers. The minimally-educated, low-skill worker is subsequently pushed further down or out of the workforce entirely.  Stebbins: jobs disappearing 2016

By 2018, roughly 78 percent of all available jobs will require education beyond high school. These projections of high, middle and low skill jobs are fairly consistent across all states.  Article by Brookings Institute: Fewer jobs is no longer active.

The true unemployment rate, if discouraged and part-time workers are included, is double that of the official rate. It's probably much worse. Alliance for a Just Society estimates that there are 7 job seekers for every $15/hour job opening.  Buchheit: Jobs disappearing 2016

Work when people are displaced by robots and machines:  What will we do 30 or 50 years from now? What will meaningful work be like then? Julian Berkinshaw mentions that "80% of people aren’t actively engaged with the work they do." That is, the work they do is meaningless to them!  This threat is unspoken and it affects today's uncertainty that workers have.

Historian Harari forecasts the future of mankind and work as follows: “the rise of the useless class” and ranks it one of the direst threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as artificial intelligence [AI] gets smarter and smarter, more and more humans are pushed out of the job market. No one knows what to study at college, because no one knows what skills learned at 20 will be relevant at age 40. Before you know it, billions of people are useless, not through chance, but by definition.  Article by Harari: Useless humans is no longer active.  Even so, jobless humans are not useless humans. In the US alone, 93 million people do not have jobs, but they are still valued.

The way Harari sees it: "humans have two kinds of ability that make us useful: physical ones and cognitive ones. The Industrial Revolution may have led to machines that beat humans at jobs that needed strength and repetitive actions. But the takeover was not overwhelming. With cognitive powers that machines could not touch, humans were largely safe in their work. For how much longer, though? AIs are now beginning to outperform humans in the cognitive field. And while new types of jobs will certainly emerge, we cannot be sure, says Harari, that humans will do them better than AIs, computers and robots." Article by Harari: Useless humans is no longer active.

“Children alive today will face the consequences. Most of what people learn in school or in college will probably be irrelevant and obsolete by the time they are 40 or 50. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people will have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster,” he says." Article by Harari: Useless humans is no longer active

All of which leads to what should we do? “First of all, take it very seriously,” Harari says. “And make it a part of the political agenda, not only the scientific agenda. This is something that shouldn’t be left to scientists and private corporations. They know a lot about the technical stuff, the engineering, but they don’t necessarily have the vision and the legitimacy to decide the future course of humankind.” Article by Harari: Useless humans is no longer active

Society needs to confront ethical morality issues about work, robots and human survival!

That the work place will change and that work will be organized in a different manner [ perhaps collaborative manner ]

Sweden: Minister of Future

"The ministry is organized in three strategic groups. The first is concerned with the future of work, the second with the green transition and competitiveness, while the third one is what we call "global cooperation."

We live in a world that is transforming at an unprecedented speed, a world that is constantly challenging and disrupting the old ways we are used to do things. Given the context, I believe that if politics wants to remain relevant and be useful to citizens, it needs to change its approach. It needs to experiment with new ways and new solutions. This is what we are doing at the ministry and it's quite ground breaking.

The biggest challenge that needs to be addressed other than climate change? The demographic problem. Sweden, as well as the rest of Europe, has to cope with an increasingly ageing population. This raises questions about the present pension schemes and their sustainability. The issue is simple: who is going to pay for the pension benefits if in most European countries pensions will represent a higher percentage of GDP and fewer people will be part of the active labour force. We need to start thinking and acting now.

In the future labour market, security will not only depend on the period of employment, but also on skills. Already good skills make us more secure, creative and mobile in the labour market. Access to the right skills is crucial for opportunities to create successful companies and new jobs. But the education people have when entering the labour market is seldom sufficient for an entire working life. In order to achieve the objectives of high employment rates, low unemployment rates and reduced social divides in the long term the system of lifelong learning in working life must be strengthened and supplemented with new reforms."   Mucci: Sweden's Minister of Future 2015

does not answer the logistic questions:   Will elementary school children, when they become middle aged, have meaningful work?  Will they be able to earn enough money to have a roof over their head and put food on the table?  How will millions of unemployed be fed, housed and find meaning in their life?  These may seem like mundane philosophical questions that some may wish to sweep under the carpet .... but we need to explore some solutions for them now and not 20 or 40 years from now if we are to survive the future! No one is thinking that far into the future?  It appears that most have yet to realize the seriousness of what happens to man when he is unemployed and has no meaningful work to do.  Rosenberg Not enough jobs 2015

A brief review of the articles on the subject on the internet failed to find any real serious discussion on these issues; except the article on the right that Sweden appointed a Minister of Future to explore the future of jobs and work. Most articles address the nature of work and how businesses will change work.  But no one in United States is addressing how unemployment and lack of real work will affect the mind-set of people without meaningful and purposeful work. That is, billions of people who may be out of work.  How can our economy provide meaningful work on a long-term basis? What will we do with billions of unemployed in the world?

So, the future looks dim .... continuing, massive world-wide unemployment. Rosenberg Not enough jobs 2015  And no solution as to how the unemployed will be able to take care of themselves in the future.  No one, as yet, has come up with a plan of what to do with billions of people who will have no jobs!  Unemployed do not pay taxes that is a source of revenue for the government.  Political candidates and governments are ignoring this reality and instead, misleading people with promises to bring back millions of jobs. This is a future world problem of equal importance to climate change!

But "man does not live by bread alone!"  Humans need meaningful work.  Meaningful not to make money, but to have food, shelter to survive, feeling a sense of worth and accomplishment, dignity and self-respect, and perhaps help make others better.  Technology and robots may not always be a very good solution as a replacement for human work. And this is a moral issue that eventually must be addressed by everyone.

We all need to prepare for the uncertain days ahead. Start living by assuming responsibility for yourself and not expecting Uncle Sam to take care of you. You cannot continue to bury your head in the sand and just go to a football or baseball game and drink some beer and expect that somehow the magic genie will pop out of the bottle and solve your future unemployment problem. Ask yourself: What will I do if I do not have a job?

You can do something whether you do or do not have a job:  There are dozens of options to consider, and you don’t have to pick just one. For example: Rosenberg: Fixing your job skills 2014  [List incomplete]

  • Improve yourself -- Life-long learning .... Upgrade your job-skill set or go to school and learn a hi-tech skill that is in demand. Become a better person! Enhance plasticity.
  • Start growing your own food. You’ll get better quality and save money.
  • Start a side business. Become a part-time entrepreneur, run a business out of your garage, sell things at local markets, become a free-lance welder, etc.
  • Start driving for Uber or Lyft, or start renting out spare rooms on Airbnb. And these three are only the best-known names; there are many others like them, and some of the others may be even better for you.
  • Get into the Bitcoin economy. This is where some of the hottest action is, especially if you have a bit of technical aptitude. But .... bitcoins may not be a perfect working solution.
  • Start 3D [home] printing. They call this “a factory on a desktop,” and it’s starting to revolutionize the world. Or join the related “maker” community.
  • Start building drones. It’s actually cheap and fairly easy to do nowadays, and they don’t have to be used for spreading death and slavery, like military and surveillance drones.
  • Start building home robots. Technology has advanced to where custom robots are possible and effective.
  • Join or create an intentional community. Intentional communities have a long and fascinating history. It has been a checkered history, but not a dull one.
  • Offshore your business. Most of the big corporations do it, so why not you? Sure, you’ll need some professional help, but it’s probably worth it. The big thing about offshore structures isn’t saving on taxes, nice as that may be, it’s escaping the paperwork that tortures small business owners: tax accounting, dozens of forms, endless reports, etc.
  • Stop wasting your valuable time watching TV.
  • And while we’re at it, stop being afraid of everything, including yourself. Consider homeschooling your children. Take your life back into your own hands.
  • Start becoming skilled at preventing illness and diseases; learn how to doctor yourself and become healthier!  Great grandma did it and so can you!
  • Learn to survive in a changing world ... adaptation.

You can start by doing research as needed; gathering information takes time but it can be done. The real magic lies in the next step: Breaking your 'living in a dream' meager dependency on others for existence and getting a job.

Nothing changes until you act. Everyone is uncertain, and everyone is scared, but only those who climb into the lifeboats will make it safely away from danger. Mere thinking, arguing and making excuses will solve nothing. You have to act.

Blatant lies and deception by politicians:  Politicians and presidential candidates are making wild, unqualified claims that they will bring lost jobs back home from overseas. But these jobs are lost. And even if these jobs were brought back these would probably be replaced by robots or much lesser pay. The information above supports these observations.


Buchheit Paul, "Our Jobs Are Disappearing," Common Dreams, February 01, 2016.  Buchheit: Jobs disappearing 2016

Casey Doug, "The US Government Is Bankrupt," Casey Research, January 13, 2012   Casey: US bankrupt 2012

Manyika James el la, "jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages," Report - McKinsey Global Institute - November 2017.  Manyik: Future of jobs 2017

McClelland Calum, "The impact of artificial intelligence - widespread job losses," It For All, August 17, 2018.  McClelland: AI impacting job losses 2018

McKinsey Global Institute, "Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation," McKinsey & Company, December, 2017.  McKinsey Global Institute: Future jobs 2017

Mucci Alberto, "Sweden's Minister of the Future Explains How to Make Politicians Think Long-Term," Motherboard, November 26, 2015.  Mucci: Sweden's Minister of Future 2015

Osborne Michael A. and Carl Benedikt Frey, "The future of Employment," University of Oxford.  Osborne: Future of Employment

Powell Bob, “Unemployment: Official, Effective, Real,” September 12, 2006.  Powell: unemployment 2006 There are different estimates of the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate (in percent). This paper explains the differences and adds other categories that might well be described as unemployed.

Rosenberg Paul, "The American Productive Class Is Withering Away: What Is to Be Done?" Casey Research, October 10, 2014.   Rosenberg: Fixing your job skills 2014

Rosenberg Paul, " There will never be enough good jobs again," Free-Man's Perspective, June 17, 2015.  Rosenberg Not enough jobs 2015

Sainato Michael,"'It was like a public execution': American retail workers face mass layoffs," The Guardian, January 24, 2019.  Sainato: US workers face massive layoffs 2019

Stebbins Samuel and Michael B. Sauter, "Will your job disappear?" USA Today, March 6, 2016.  Stebbins: jobs disappearing 2016

Strawson Galen, "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – review," The Guardian, September 11, 2014  Strawson: History mankind 2014

Ward Alex, "Mechanic masterchef: Robots cook dumplings, noodles and wait tables at restaurant in China," Daily Mail,January 13, 2013.  Ward: robots displacing waiters in China 2013

Unemployment rate: The government wants to put a good face on the economy via employment and this is done by using a U-3 formula to give the lowest unemployment number. The high number of unemployed uses U-6 formula.   So who is lying and who is telling the truth if there is one?

Bob Powell, explains the different estimates of the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate (in percent). The official definitions in brief:

    U-3. the official unemployment rate
    U-4. Adding also "discouraged" workers
    U-5. Adding also other "marginally attached"
    U-6. Adding also "part time for economic reasons" -- they want, but can't find, a full time job
    U-6 + Want Job Now. Adding also those government considers "Not in labor force, but persons who currently want a job." While there's a certain tortured logic to the BLS definition, I [ Powell ]  find it stunning that people who say they want a job now, but don't have one, aren't considered part of the labor force.
    U-6 + Want Job Now + Needed to Keep Up w/Pop Growth. Adding also the number of jobs that would be needed to keep up with population growth.

Even the Department of Labor's expanded unemployment measure doesn't fully capture how difficult the job market is for American workers. It doesn't include self-employed workers whose incomes have shriveled. It doesn't look at former full-time staff employees who have accepted short-term contracts, without benefits, and at a fraction of their former salaries. And it doesn't count the many would-be workers who are going back to school, taking on more debt, in hopes that an advanced degree will improve their chances of landing a job.

Millions of people have given up on finding work and others forced into working fewer hours than they'd like. The statistics above hardly tell the real story of unemployed Americans.

So .... what is the official unemployment rate? A quick refresher on how the unemployment rate works: The government only counts people as “unemployed” if they are actively looking for work. Everyone else who isn’t working is considered out of the labor force entirely. According to the federal government way of counting heads, approximately April 2016, the unemployment rate held at 5.0 percent; this rate fluctuates annually somewhere around 5 to 7%. But if you count those who have been laid off and are unable to get a good paying job, it is somewhere around 20 to 30%. This figure can vary with different age groups, such as black youth unemployment rate being about 50%.

Many semi-skilled workers have lost their jobs on the one hand while many new skilled university graduates are finding it difficult to find employment in their field. Both are considered unemployed [ jobless ]. No one knows the exact number of unemployed.  A quick refresher on how the unemployment rate works: The government only counts people as “unemployed” if they are actively looking for work. Everyone else who isn’t working is considered out of the labor force entirely. The federal government estimate of the unemployed includes only those who are getting unemployment benefits for six months. Once the unemployment benefits stop, these persons are then re-classified as no longer unemployed. So, if a worker who was earning $30 per hour in a factory gets laid off, he becomes unemployed until he gets a job at McDonalds earning $ 12.00 an hour. Then he is classified as employed even though he does not earn enough money to live on!