There is much talk about the return to the manufacturing world of the twentieth century. Lots of promises being made to out-of-work people that old plants will come to life again and new, greatly increased numbers of manufacturing jobs will be the hallmark of America in the first quarter of the 21st Century.
America may become more of an island again, buying less from abroad and producing more goods at home. America may see a renaissance of “Made in America” products. But, it is far less certain, even in the most rosy of scenarios, that we will see much if any net gain in blue collar (or even white collar) jobs as a result.
All one has to do is look at manufacturing today in the U.S. and abroad. Robotics has transformed manufacturing in industrial countries. The result of this, of course, has been a net reduction in numbers of jobs for humans. And, as robots become ever more omnipresent and ever more sophisticated, jobs for humans will become ever more scarce and require ever greater skill levels.
In an article in the New York Times of March 29, 2017, a study by economists at Boston University and MIT found significant evidence of the negative effects of robots on jobs in manufacturing in America. The article noted that data clearly show that robots are to blame for hundreds of thousands of lost manufacturing jobs over the last decade or so and that the number of industrial robots will increase many fold again in short order.
It is clear that automation is here to stay and ever more an essential and central factor in manufacturing in this country and abroad. To assume, as politicians may suggest, that manufacturing jobs will increase by bringing them “home” is as naïve as to assume that robotics is just an academic pursuit and that Robots will not continue their inexorable takeover of almost every element of manufacturing in the developed world, whether in the United States or wherever. Robots are well rooted now and humans have already lost the race for American jobs. Very simply, there will be increasingly fewer and fewer skilled and unskilled manufacturing workers as this decade advances no matter how many more plants in America expand or are opened.