If Robots Don’t Cause Mass Unemployment, Will Many Remaining Jobs Pay $2/Hr?

Maybe we’ll get lucky, and robots/AI won’t create mass unemployment. But of the remaining jobs, how many will be good jobs? A recent study of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, “one of the largest micro-crowdsourcing markets that is widely used by industry,” raises a red flag.

The research found that on average requesters paid $11/hr. But when you factor in the considerable time workers spend on unpaid labor such as searching for tasks, the actual median wage drops to just $2/hr. Of the sample of work they analyzed, only 4% earned more than $7.25/hr.

According to researchers Mary Gray and Siddharth Suri, who last year worked with Pew on a fascinating study of “on-demand work,” this type of work is going to play an increasingly important role in the US economy:

Labor economists Lawrence Katz and Al Krueger estimate that conventional temp and alternative contract-driven work rose from 10 to 16%, accounting for all net employment growth in the US economy in the past decade. Assuming Pew’s trends continue at the current rate, by the year 2027, nearly 1 in 3 American adults will transition to online platforms to support themselves with on-demand gig work.

This is the other reason why we should stop debating whether robots will destroy more jobs than they create. Even if they don’t, we could still end up living in a dystopian future. It’s time to stop obsessing over questions we can’t answer and start obsessing over how to build a future that’s worth living in.

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