Washington’s Big Risk: Ignoring the Rise of Automation

Written by

Mitria Wilson
Mitria Wilson Mitria Wilson, J.D., is Vice President of Economic Opportunity at the Center for Global Policy Solutions. Most recently, she served as Senior Counsel for Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee and, prior to that, a Vice President of Federal Affairs and Senior Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, Director of Legislative and Policy Advocacy at National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and Acting Committee Director/Legislative Director of Economic Development for the Council of the District of Columbia.

Last month, Tesla announced a partnership with the country of Dubai to put 200 driverless taxis on the road. The fact that Tesla and other Silicon Valley companies, like Uber and Google, are focusing heavily on research and development of artificial intelligence and automated technology comes as no surprise.

Yet, what is surprising is the lack of discussion inside Washington, D.C. and throughout the “Beltway” about how automation will impact America’s workforce.

There’s reason for concern over the silence from policymakers along Pennsylvania Avenue. Researchers have estimated that as many as 43 percent of American jobs will become fully automated by 2033. And, a report released by President Barack Obama just prior to his departure from office, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and The Economy,” made clear that the nation’s most vulnerable communities—the less educated, lower income, and historically marginalized individuals that make up America’s working class—are likely to suffer the most.

The reality is that millions of food service, retail, administrative, transportation, and manufacturing jobs are likely to face elimination in just a few short years. This is not to suggest that technological innovation is a bad thing. Nor is it something that should or can be stopped.

To the contrary, history shows that job displacement caused by advances in technology has always been outweighed by the creation of new sources of employment.

But here is where the disconnect lies. There is a distinct mismatch between the skills needed for the jobs that automation is likely to produce and the education, training, and skill sets of the workers that are most likely to be displaced.

This is where Washington comes in. What’s needed is a federal plan and forward-thinking policies that can affordably retrain and provide social service support to millions of American workers. That planning on the part of federal lawmakers – in conjunction with state and local legislators – could make it possible for retraining and transition to occur without the displaced facing personal financial collapse in the process.

Otherwise, our nation is poised to embark upon one of the most severe unemployment challenges it has ever faced … unprepared. Given these sobering facts, Washington’s silence on the coming automation age is deafening. It may also prove to be an ominous mistake for the nation’s economy and the millions of workers that drive it.  

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