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How many jobs do robots really replace?

MIT professor Daron Acemoglu is co-author of a new study showing
that each robot added to the workforce has the effect of replacing
3.3 jobs across the U.S.
Image: Stock image edited by MIT News

This is part 1 of a three-part series examining the effects of
robots and automation on employment, based on new research from
economist and Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu.

In many parts of the U.S., robots have been replacing workers
over the last few decades. But to what extent, really? Some
technologists have forecast that automation will lead to a future
without work, while other observers have been more skeptical about
such scenarios.

Now a study co-authored by an MIT professor puts firm numbers on
the trend, finding a very real impact — although one that
falls well short of a robot takeover. The study also finds that in
the U.S., the impact of robots varies widely by industry and
region, and may play a notable role in exacerbating income
inequality.

“We find fairly major negative employment effects,â€
MIT economist Daron Acemoglu says, although he notes that the
impact of the trend can be overstated.

From 1990 to 2007, the study shows, adding one additional robot
per 1,000 workers reduced the national employment-to-population
ratio by about 0.2 percent, with some areas of the U.S. affected
far more than others.

This means each additional robot added in manufacturing replaced
about 3.3 workers nationally, on average.

That increased use of robots in the workplace also lowered wages
by roughly 0.4 percent during the same time period.

“We find negative wage effects, that workers are losing in
terms of real wages in more affected areas, because robots are
pretty good at competing against them,†Acemoglu says.

The paper, “Robots and Jobs: Evidence from U.S. Labor
Markets,†appears in advance online form in theJournal of
Political Economy. The authors are Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo
PhD ’16, an assistant professor of economics at Boston
University.

Displaced in Detroit

To conduct the study, Acemoglu and Restrepo used data on 19
industries, compiled by the International Federation of Robotics
(IFR), a Frankfurt-based industry group that keeps detailed
statistics on robot deployments worldwide. The scholars combined
that with U.S.-based data on population, employment, business, and
wages, from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic
Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among other
sources.

The researchers also compared robot deployment in the U.S. to
that of other countries, finding it lags behind that of Europe.
From 1993 to 2007, U.S. firms actually did introduce almost exactly
one new robot per 1,000 workers; in Europe, firms introduced 1.6
new robots per 1,000 workers.

“Even though the U.S. is a technologically very advanced
economy, in terms of industrial robots’ production and usage
and innovation, it’s behind many other advanced
economies,†Acemoglu says.

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Originally published by
Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office
May 4, 2020
MIT News