Sep 21, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Automation, immigration and fear

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

People often blame immigration and trade for destroying American work, even though automation and technological change are far more likely to take away jobs in the coming years.

What's happening: In a first-of-its-kind experiment, an MIT political scientist tested whether informing people about potential job loss from automation would change their minds about immigration and trade.

  • In three studies, MIT's Baobao Zhang got the same result — people didn't shift their beliefs. Even when presented with evidence that automation was by far the more salient risk to jobs, people continued to hold anti-immigration, anti-trade views.
  • These findings suggest that support for populist Trumpian policies may not be as closely linked to economic anxiety as is often argued.

"Right-wing populism is not only an economic story," says Zhang. "Economic anxiety might not be the main driver for support for Donald Trump. For instance, it could be people feeling threatened by out-groups" like immigrants and foreign workers.

The big picture: This narrative has been around since President Trump won in 2016 on a wave of protectionist proposals — that largely white, middle- and low-income Americans living far from coastal wealth voted in their economic self-interest.

  • But a truly self-interested person, economists say, would focus on the automation, which could wipe out millions of jobs, rather than immigration or trade.
  • The MIT research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that learning about automation also didn't make people more likely to support retraining programs that experts say are essential to counterbalance the disruption.

Another root problem is that it's really, really hard to change people's minds, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Zhang previously studied reactions to information about climate change, an issue that remains polarizing despite scientific consensus.

"It may be that cultural factors play a substantial role in protectionist sentiments," says Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. "Workers may worry about immigrants taking their jobs as automation kicks in but also be concerned about what that will mean for American identity and the future of the country," he tells Axios.

Go deeper

Supreme Court allows Trump administration to penalize immigrants likely to use public benefits

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Trump administration can begin enforcing new rules that penalize immigrants who are likely to rely on certain public programs, such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Why it matters: This isn't a final ruling on the rules' legality — the 5-4 vote allows them to take effect while courts decide further — but it's a significant incremental victory for the White House. It'll quickly make it much harder for lower-income immigrants to get a green card, change their immigration status or become citizens.

Go deeper: Health of immigrants at risk in changes to public assistance policies

Keep ReadingArrowJan 27, 2020

Women outpace men on U.S. payrolls

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Men count was derived by subtracting women count from total; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

There are more women on American payrolls than men as of the latest U.S. jobs report.

Why it matters: The data reflects a hiring boom in industries that are female-dominated, while sectors that are more likely to employ men are lagging in job gains. The last time women overtook men in payrolls was “during a stretch between June 2009 and April 2010,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the milestone.

Go deeperArrowJan 10, 2020

Work 2.0: The Evolving Social Contract

Attendees gather at the table for dinner and discussion in Davos. Photo: Dani Ammann for Axios

On Thursday evening, chief technology correspondent Ina Fried hosted an Expert Voices discussion in Davos, Switzerland. The group was tasked with exploring the changing nature of work — everything from employees' evolving expectations of their institutions, stakeholder capitalism, the rise of AI and technological job displacement.

Changing expectations

Fried asked the group about a work expectation that has gone away or changed substantially during their careers.

  • Mo Cowan, President of Global Government Affairs and Policy at GE, highlighted the shift from trust and belief in institutions; employees will challenge the institution now. "Our employees have not only found their voice but think up creative ways to amplify that voice."
  • Thomas Donilon, Chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute, shared a changed experience "If you had a job, you thought you can have a decent life. That's not the case for the largest cohort of Americans. When you chose a profession, you had every expectation that it would always exist — that has been upended."
  • Yvonne Sonsino, Partner at Mercer, said that retirement is probably a thing of the past, "Now we are looking at how to facilitate a longer, healthier working life."

Other attendees touched on flexibility at work and bringing one's full self to their job.

  • Rajesh Mirchandani, Chief Communications Officer at the United Nations Foundation, shared how technology has made his team more flexible — they understand they need to be responsive at any time.
"Another benefit is that we as managers learn that I don't need you in the office every day if you're getting your work done. And we need to do more of that. People have jobs and they have lives and they need to be able to do both."
  • Marne Levine, Vice President of Global Partnerships, Business and Corporate Development at Facebook, similarly noted "Work cultures are saying bring your whole self to work and tools are being created to bring out your whole self at work."
  • Michael Federle, CEO at Forbes, emphasized that his most effective team members work horizontally across the organization and are aware of the full organization rather than just the vertical they work in. The flattening of organizational hierarchies is allowing the best people to show themselves early on.
Jobs of the future

The discussion then focused on jobs of the future — what these jobs look like, how the workforce gets to that point, and how society is currently doing in providing that pathway after job displacement.

  • Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, brought up two important points:
    • "What is the obligation of the disruptor to the disrupted? What is my obligation to those displaced — do I have any or is that just progress?"
    • "There will be a premium on human creativity. We are just scratching the surface of human creativity — AI will unleash a whole new generation full of solutions and ideas."
  • Olivia Lopez, Managing Director of Partnerships at The Rockefeller Foundation, highlighted the value of people that do the work that is not valued — teachers, health care and elderly care workers — noting these are the jobs that won't be replaced, the people jobs.
  • Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, emphasized the fact that new job systems are inaccessible for many people — people don't know where the starting point is to even become part of the new economy. "We've trained ourselves to act like systems leaders, we need to be people leaders."

Thank you Verizon for sponsoring this event.

Keep ReadingArrowJan 27, 2020