Stories by Steve LeVine

Low joblessness is lifting all boats

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

For more than a year, the U.S. jobless rate has hovered right around 4% — including the last three months, when it's been a mind-boggling 3.7%, a half-century low. Fast-growing companies desperate for workers have turned to accepting candidates with lesser skills, drug use and felony records, dispensing with long-held hiring red lines.

Why it matters: If these trends continue, they may begin to whittle away at some of the nation's most stubborn problems — that millions of Americans have given up trying to find work after years of unemployment, and a vast number of jobless people lack sufficient skills for the quickly advancing economy.

The problem with work

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For the last several years, some of the world's leading thinkers have fretted over robots and artificial intelligence, with one particular worry — whether jobs across the U.S. and the rest of the advanced economies are going to be wiped out.

The big picture: As of now, no one truly knows what will happen, but everyone agrees on one point — that something is substantially broken when it comes to work. Most Americans have not received a real wage increase in decades, one-third of working-age people are not part of the labor force at all, and the education system seems divorced from the future economy.

Robots or humans: the choice for companies

A female robot flexing her bicep
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Over the coming years, the workplace in the U.S. and other advanced economies will see increased automation, and corporate leaders will face a stark choice: whether to keep humans in the mix or let them go. And if it's the former, to what degree?

What’s happening: A wave of studies and corporate PR campaigns argue that there is nothing to fear from artificial intelligence and robots — they will operate to enhance human labor, not to replace it. But Ravin Jesuthasan, author of "Reinventing Jobs," says that will only be the case if the bulk of companies decide to use AI and robots that way — a decision that hasn't been made yet.

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