Sun, Jan 27, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Recession and technology killing off middle-class jobs

Entire employment categories are beginning to disappear faster than labor economists had believed as computer software, robots and other devices become more sophisticated and powerful — and millions of more jobs will follow suit

By Bernard Condon and Paul Wiseman  /  AP, NEW YORK

The AP’s key findings:

‧ For more than three decades, technology has drastically reduced the number of jobs in manufacturing. Robots and other machines controlled by computer programs work faster and make fewer mistakes than humans. Now, that same efficiency is being unleashed in the service economy, which employs more than two-thirds of the workforce in developed countries. Technology is eliminating jobs in office buildings, retail establishments and other businesses consumers deal with every day.

‧ Technology is being adopted by every kind of organization that employs people. It is replacing workers in large corporations and small businesses, established companies and start-ups. It is being used by schools, colleges and universities; hospitals and other medical facilities; nonprofit organizations and the military.

‧ The most vulnerable workers are doing repetitive tasks that programmers can write software for — an accountant checking a list of numbers, an office manager filing forms, a paralegal reviewing documents for key words to help in a case. As software becomes even more sophisticated, victims are expected to include those who juggle tasks, such as supervisors and managers — workers who thought they were protected by a college degree.

‧ Thanks to technology, companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index reported one-third more profit the past year than they earned the year before the Great Recession. They have also expanded their businesses, but total employment, at 21.1 million, has declined by a half-million.

‧ Start-ups account for much of the job growth in developed economies, but software is allowing entrepreneurs to launch businesses with a third fewer employees than in the 1990s. There is less need for administrative support and back-office jobs that handle accounting, payroll and benefits.

‧ It is becoming a self-serve world. Instead of relying on someone else in the workplace or our personal lives, we use technology to do tasks ourselves. Some find this frustrating; others like the feeling of control. Either way, this trend will only grow as software permeates our lives.

‧ Technology is replacing workers in developed countries regardless of their politics, policies and laws. Union rules and labor laws may slow the dismissal of employees, but no country is attempting to prohibit organizations from using technology that allows them to operate more efficiently — and with fewer employees.

Some analysts reject the idea that technology has been a big job killer. They note that the collapse of the housing market in the US, Ireland, Spain and other countries and the ensuing global recession wiped out millions of middle-class construction and factory jobs. In their view, governments could bring many of the jobs back if they would put aside worries about their heavy debts and spend more. Others note that jobs continue to be lost to China, India and other countries in the developing world.

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