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White House considers effects of automation "a policy challenge"

Jens Meyer / AP

A top White House aide on tech issues said Thursday "we have a responsibility" to figure out what happens to workers who lose their jobs to automation or technological change, whether that's at the federal, state or local level.

"So, I think that's a real policy challenge," said Matt Lira, Special Assistant to the President for Innovation Policy and Initiatives, at an event sponsored by the Internet Association. "Both things like these potential new technologies, but also just the nature of the modern economy, is going to require the evolution of horizontal pathways where someone who's 35, 45, 55 has a credible path from column A to column B that can be done at scale."

But, but, but: Lira also noted that there have been instances where the threat of automation has been overhyped. He said that while ATMs mean there are fewer bank tellers per branch, they've led to more bank branches, all of which need employees, because each one is cheaper.

Why it matters: The threat that automation poses to the economy is top-of-mind right now. But it has not been totally clear how much it's a priority for Trump, even as he focuses on jobs lost to outsourcing and trade. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said at an Axios event in March that the issue is "not even on our radar screen" — but he later walked those comments back.

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