- "Robot intensity," measured by the number of robots per number of workers, has more than doubled in the last decade to reach 1.81 robots for every 10,000 workers as of 2017, according to a study by The Century Foundation.
- Robots are leading to the displacement of mostly young, less-educated, minority workers in midwestern states, the study found. Workers have largely found new jobs. The new jobs had reduced pay, but the study did not find evidence that an area's increased robot intensity coincided with a decline in its wages.
- Nationally, the study found the use of robots can increase employment, noting there is little evidence the use of robotics will result in "widespread and crushing job displacement" as robotic intensity increases in census divisions outside of the Midwest.
The geographic area most experiencing displacement by robots is the East North Central (ENC) census division, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. This area is made up of the highest levels of manufacturing in the country.
While the study didn't find evidence of robotic displacement nationwide, it did find it in the ENC regions, which has the highest robot intensity in the country.
The study finds if the region had not relied on automation in its recent economic expansion following the great recession, "there would be more jobs in particular for minorities" and furthermore, "employment rates of young, less-educated minority workers in the East North Central division have been depressed by automation."
Economic expansion offset some losses, but the employment rate for young, less-educated workers in the rust belt is lower than other groups and the study suggests automation could be to blame.
The study also suggests robots could be saving jobs, allowing manufacturing to stay in the U.S. and compete with low wage countries like Mexico.
The International Federation of Robotics expects sales of robotics to grow by more than 10% from 2019 into 2020, increasing from 421,000 units to 465,000 units.
Companies are investing heavily to add automation to their supply chains. Amazon announced last month it plans to spend $40 million on a new robotics research facility. Honeywell is opening a similar facility where it will work with Carnegie Mellon University and warehouse robotics companies have been raising millions in venture capital.
As robotic intensity grows, though, the study's authors suggest the broader U.S. should take a lesson from the Midwest.
"[T]he experiences of young Midwestern minority and women workers, employers, and their communities can help other parts of the country prepare for and minimize the economic, social, and cultural adjustment costs associated with the introduction and diffusion of robots," the report concludes.
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