What is Technological Unemployment?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Technological unemployment is a term used to describe the lack or loss of jobs due to technological changes or innovations. This type of unemployment typically comes from workers either being replaced by machines or having their jobs made easier and require fewer workers to accomplish the same task. Though technological unemployment has been a general concern since the Industrial Revolution, it has become an increasingly prominent concern with real consequences in the Western world since the 1980s and the recognition of countries like the United States experiencing “jobless growth.”

Considered by many economists as part of “structural unemployment,” technological unemployment can be isolated or may occur as part of a larger unemployment trend. Structural unemployment is one of the five primary forms of unemployment as seen by economists, and generally covers any type of unemployment in which the people who are seeking employment are not properly skilled or prepared to fill the job opportunities that may exist. This type of unemployment is generally seen in long-term unemployment situations, and though the numbers of people looking for work may match the number of available jobs, the unemployed are not sufficiently qualified to fulfill the needs and duties of these jobs.


Technological unemployment is often an aspect of structural unemployment, as workers may find that the job they just had has been replaced by a machine or computer, and that the entire industry has changed irrevocably. This can lead to the unemployed job seeker finding that every opportunity for employment that existed before has disappeared, perhaps with the entire industry adopting the technological changes that have made his or her position nonexistent. In these types of situations, political leaders and economic experts often advise those seeking work to instead turn to education, as new skills and knowledge are often required to reinvigorate the work force.

One of the greatest potential problems with technological unemployment is the somewhat recent trend seen in industrialized nations referred to as “jobless growth.” Jobless growth is the improvement of a nation’s businesses and financial sector, with increased profits and greater financial success but without the creation of jobs. This can often lead to noticeable financial recovery, but without any noticeable creation of new jobs to reduce the unemployment rate. Technological unemployment can be such a massive paradigm shift in the workplace that it leaves people completely unable to come to grips with how an industry has changed, and those who do not find ways to adapt may find themselves in long-term unemployment.


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Post 6

Society is so oblivious right now about the implications of technology for the coming decades. Sure you can reeducate yourself and hope for the best. But eventually in less than 20 years, machines will be nearing human like intelligence. This is not some Terminator fantasy. These are real, applicable rationales derived from current trends.

Moore's law states that the doubling of processing power will enable humans to be replaced in highly skilled jobs within the next two decades. Even doctors, nurses, lawyers and technicians will be replaced with computer AI and robotics. What will the powers that be do then? Politicians can't solve this because the problems are technical, not social, so we need engineers, scientists and technologists to give us a road map. However society will be grappling with the inadequate decisions made by its politicians for a long time to come.

Post 5

The problem with the new paradigm of technological unemployment is that there has been no new sector created to replace the service sector.

As service sector jobs are mopped up by machines (just go into your local supermarket to see what I mean) we will face a society where there are fewer and fewer jobs, and therefore fewer and fewer people able to consume. Education will not solve this issue as you cannot train for a job that doesn't exist.

Automation of software means that the vast majority of jobs in the 'middle classes' will no longer be needed. No one sector is safe. Accountancy is increasingly being automated.

Google cars etc., will see that there will be no need for taxis or truck drivers either. Politicians and economists know this, but have no answer other than to try and re-invigorate a dying system. The only solution available is to re-invent society without the profit motive.

Post 4

@jmc88 - Nursing is still one of the fields that is in high demand. I guess that is because you need to be pretty intelligent to get the degree. Even then, a lot of nurses are getting 4 year degrees now instead of the normal 2.

Hidden unemployment covers a few different types of unemployment. It often refers to people who technically have a job and are receiving money, but they are not working full time, or they have a job where they are not putting their full range of skills to work. An example may be an accountant working as a waiter. It can also refer to people who have given up are are no longer looking for work.

It is called hidden since unemployment statistics only count people with no job and who are actively looking for work. Depending on the circumstances, a lot of people who have fallen to technological unemployment might be included in this category.

Post 3

In the 90s, my aunt lost her job at a car plant due to outsourcing following NAFTA. She decided to go back to school and become a nurse and has had a successful career since then making much more than she would be at the factory. She is one of the success stories when the system worked as it should.

Does anyone have any idea of the numbers of jobs that have been lost over the past several years as a result of technological unemployment? My guess is that a lot of changes have happened in the automotive industry. Also, has anyone heard of hidden unemployment. What is it?

Post 2

@Izzy78 - That is a common problem that isn't easy to solve. For most people, though, there are ways around the problem if you are dedicated.

Most people who return to school go to a community or technical college. These types of schools are a good deal, since they are inexpensive compared to universities, and they offer programs in practical fields. Most of these colleges will offer reduced tuition depending on financial circumstances. The government can also provide grants or loans.

Many people will be able to collect some type of unemployment benefits that will help with part of the money problem. Even then, people may still need to try to find a part time job or else get support from a spouse or family member for a couple of years. Obviously, cutting back on your costs is a must.

Post 1

This article cleared up a lot of confusion I had about some of the terms that show up on the news a lot lately. Jobless growth is a common one I never understood.

If the common or recommended solution to technological unemployment is to go back to school, how can people do it when they don't have a job? Getting an education is an expensive undertaking, so does the government have incentives for these people to return to school?

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