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AP Photo/Arcadia Publishing

People worry that automation will drastically affect wages for those humans who manage to keep their jobs, and that's fair: it took more than 1.5 centuries for workers' wages to recover after the Industrial Revolution, per The Economist.

The introduction of machines and tools created a significant demand for unskilled labor (it rose from 20% of the workforce to 39% from 1700 to 1850). Machines either pushed craftsmen out of the labor market completely, or encouraged employers to decrease their workers' wages. The Economist cites this exact situation in which wages fell drastically in the early 1800s, not recovering until 1960.

Why it matters: That's a long time for wages to recover, and machines have become increasingly advanced since 1960. Most of them, at least in some industries like manufacturing, are introduced to eliminate the need for workers or, ultimately, they alter the way employers think about workers' wages in an age where cost-effective and time-saving machines are becoming ubiquitous.

One recent example: GE's recently introduced vision inspection system, as my colleague Chris Matthews reported. In theory, machines can help workers become more productive, and productivity leads to higher wages — but that's not the case. Machines like this one at GE actually reduce the need for workers — especially those who are typically paid between $20 and $40 per hour in this field.

One quick thing: Harvard economist Ken Rogoff told The Economist that "as the wage premium for a particular group of workers rises, firms will have a greater incentive to replace them."

Note: For every one robot created, three to five jobs are lost. (More on that in our "Almost Now" video here.) What's more, for every robot added per 1,000 employees, their wages would decrease by 0.25 to 0.5%, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
5 mins ago - Economy & Business

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

America has been hit by a series of catastrophic failures — and the only certainty is that more are on the way.

Why it matters: Our infrastructure is failing, and the less we invest in it now, the more it's going to continue to fail in the future.

Cities are starting to ban gas stations

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Petaluma, California, has voted to outlaw new gas stations, the first of what climate activists hope will be numerous cities and counties to do so.

Why it matters: Expect more such ordinances, particularly in liberal towns. Grassroots groups are popping up with the mission of spreading this type of ban and forcing pollution cleanups at existing gas stations.

Column / Harder Line

New England power fight foreshadows divisive clean energy future

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It wasn’t his first choice, but Sean Mahoney isn’t fighting a 150-mile proposed power line sending Canadian hydropower to New England as part of the region’s climate-change goals.

Why he matters: Mahoney, a senior expert at the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation who lives in Maine, is seeking to compromise in a bitter battle over the proposal. Expect more fights like this as President Biden and other political leaders pursue zero-carbon economies over the next 30 years.