President Donald Trump’s new Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is pretty carefree. Like most Trump voters, Mnuchin said he’s “not worried at all” about robots and automated systems taking away the jobs his boss has promised to bring back to the United States — but he should be.
Robots are already taking jobs. It’s not a future scenario we can deal with later, but a very real phenomenon that needs to be handled now, especially for the blue-collar workers who are watching industry die in middle America. In an interview with Mike Allen at Axios on Friday, Mnuchin said that losing jobs to robots isn’t something he’s worried about at all. “In fact I’m optimistic,” Mnuchin told Axios. “It’s not even on our radar screen…. 50-100 more years [away].”
Mnuchin, like many Americans, is either still in denial that the robot uprising is happening, or he just doesn’t care if one-third of his boss’s constituents lose their jobs in the next 12 years. He isn’t alone — most of us still don’t believe a robot will take our job — but as Treasury secretary, Mnuchin is responsible for making policy recommendations based on the future of the economy. Saying that losing jobs to automation is not on his radar is frankly irresponsible.
In March a report from the UK found that we could lose one-third of all jobs by 2030. A report from the White House last year found a high chance that all workers who make less than $20 an hour will be replaced by robots. A United Nations policy briefing from November found that within two years, there will be 300,000 manufacturing robots in North America.
Robots are coming for all industries across the world. So it’s not like we can just bring jobs back from China or Mexico to save blue-collar workers in the United States — the robots are already here.
The frustrating thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Automation will replace traditional blue collar jobs, but if the federal government invests in programs that re-train workers we know will be affected, like truckers and assembly line workers, robots could actually end up creating jobs. We’ll still need people with solid, blue-collar backgrounds, they will just be doing things like programming and repairing robots instead of building machines and driving trucks. The trick is training them to do these jobs now, instead of waiting for everyone to get laid off and then start trying to learn new skills. This kind of economic restructuring is squarely on people like Mnuchin denying that automation is happening and don’t give blue-collar workers the support they need to survive as the world changes.
The robots are already here and coming for all of us, so we have to stop pretending it’s not happening and start getting ready for the future.