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General Electric's new $100 million jet-engine manufacturing plant in Indiana features a vision inspection system. In the past, a technician would spend four hours poring over the engine in search of defects. The machine, however, can do it in twenty minutes, while at the same time creating a permanent, digital record of the engine that helps reduce maintenance costs if something does go wrong.

  • Easy math: The vision inspection system costs north of $100,000 dollars, and when you consider that aerospace technicians enter the industry fetching between $20 and $40 per hour, that's an investment that can pay for itself in less than two years.
  • A job killer? Without innovations like the vision inspection system, GE workers wouldn't increase their productivity, and higher worker productivity is what enables higher wages. But make no mistake — the purpose of many of these innovations is to cut down on the need for labor.
  • A catch-22: Industries, like manufacturing, that have seen above-average productivity growth are industries where wage growth has a chance to be strong, but these are also industries in which automation is likely leading to less overall employment. In industries like healthcare and education, where productivity growth has been weak, the opposite problem exists. A nursing home assistant earns on average just $11.51 per hour, despite surging demand for workers.

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.