How Robots Are Beginning to Affect Workers and Their Wages

Much has been written about the rise of robots and the potential impacts of automation on the economy. Yet most analysis tends to be prospective in nature, and estimates of future impacts on employment vary widely, with some studies predicting that as many as 50 percent of all workers are at risk of losing their jobs to automation. Even less is understood about the actual impacts of robots on jobs, wages, and workers today. While more recent studies have begun to measure these effects, the results here, too, are mixed.

A new report released by The Century Foundation and conducted by William M. Rodgers, III, a fellow at The Century Foundation and professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and Richard B. Freeman, the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University analyzes the impact of robots in the years following the Great Recession, from 2009 to 2017—a period of significant, steady job growth and economic recovery, as well as one in which the use of robots in the U.S. workplace more than doubled. The report’s findings, summarized below, offer new insights that can help inform ongoing debates about the future of work and the impact of automation.

The Century Foundation, October 17, 2019