Where the jobs went

Are you old enough to remember the days when someone else pumped your gasoline? A guy came out and asked you whether you wanted regular or hi-test and how much. While he was pumping it, he washed your windshield, checked your oil and maybe put air in your tires.

At some point,  the “self-serve” option appeared and you could save some money by foregoing the “full-serve” extras. In New Jersey, this was never allowed because, allegedly, the motorist was more likely to set himself on fire than a “professional”. It seems to me that the “full-serve” option is getting harder to find, at least in my neck of the woods, and New Jersey is now the only state where it’s illegal to pump your own. Truth be told, it’s kind of a pain in the butt for most visitors who are accustomed to a quick visit for gas.

One of the big advantages of the pump-your-own model was that you could get the customer to do a job for free that you had been paying someone else to do previously. Other businesses saw the potential, and the result has been that there are a lot fewer jobs of a certain kind now to be had. Fewer bank tellers, retail check-out people, postal clerks, and so on. The customer can do the work.

With the rise of the internet, whole professions were obsoleted seemingly overnight: stock broker, travel agent, and so many others. Technology has enabled the elimination of middle-men of all descriptions. When you think of it, it’s just the natural progression of things.  Labor-saving, time-saving, and of course, money-saving are big drivers of a lot of technological change.

And the globalization of labor just made it a lot cheaper to do most manufacturing elsewhere.

The final blow will be the rise of robotics in the workplace. Assembly line work is an obvious example we’ve had for a while now. Warehouse pickers, baggage handlers, and lots of others as well have already experienced this . With the advent of self-driving cars, another whole class of jobs will soon wither away.

The bottom line is this: those coal-mining jobs Trump has promised to restore are not coming back, and neither are most blue-collar jobs that have already disappeared. Robotics is the main culprit, not the E.P.A. To get a glimpse of what’s coming, check this out:

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