Pandemic Wave of Automation May Be Bad News for Workers
Published: July 3, 2021Share
| Print This
When Kroger customers in Cincinnati shop online these days, their groceries may be picked out not by a worker in their local supermarket but by a robot in a nearby warehouse.
Gamers at Dave & Buster’s in Dallas who want pretzel dogs can order and pay from their phones — no need to flag down a waiter.
And in the drive-through lane at Checkers near Atlanta, requests for Big Buford burgers and Mother Cruncher chicken sandwiches may be fielded not by a cashier in a headset, but by a voice-recognition algorithm.
An increase in automation, especially in service industries, may prove to be an economic legacy of the pandemic. Businesses from factories to fast-food outlets to hotels turned to technology last year to keep operations running amid social distancing requirements and contagion fears. Now the outbreak is ebbing in the United States, but the difficulty in hiring workers — at least at the wages that employers are used to paying — is providing new momentum for automation.
Technological investments that were made in response to the crisis may contribute to a post-pandemic productivity boom, allowing for higher wages and faster growth. But some economists say the latest wave of automation could eliminate jobs and erode bargaining power, particularly for the lowest-paid workers, in a lasting way.
“Once a job is automated, it’s pretty hard to turn back,” said Casey Warman, an economist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who has studied automation in the pandemic
The trend toward automation predates the pandemic, but it has accelerated at what is proving to be a critical moment. The rapid reopening of the economy has led to a surge in demand for waiters, hotel maids, retail sales clerks and other workers in service industries that had cut their staffs. At the same time, government benefits have allowed many people to be selective in the jobs they take. Together, those forces have given low-wage workers a rare moment of leverage
, leading to higher pay
, more generous benefits and other perks.Read More...
Share This Article...