How the labor market works and which jobs are being replaced by robots : Planet Money : NPR

Illustration by James Yang for NPR

There is a lot in a job.

What a person does for a living can say a lot about their interests, areas of expertise, and lifestyle. Likewise, the types of jobs created or lost in the economy can tell us a lot about the direction we are all headed.

Over the past hundred years, there has been a massive shift in our national economic identity, driven in large part by the transition from an economy based on labour-intensive, working-class production jobs that goods towards an economy that is more driven by the maintenance sector, where more and more jobs require specialized training or higher education.

This transition has advantages. Jobs tend to be less dangerous, many goods become cheaper, and many workers have access to comforts that a turn-of-the-century factory worker could not have imagined even in their wildest dreams.

However, our shiny new skills-based economy also means diminishing job opportunities for workers without access to education or training, so they can compete for high-paying positions with great long-term job security.

Today’s lesson is a story from the front lines of an economic transition. We travel to a factory, once the symbol of our strong manufacturing economy, where today all the forces influencing the transition collide simultaneously and workers and entrepreneurs are forced to adapt quickly. We enter the decision-making process about when to replace an employee with a machine.

Then we travel to a farm where even higher wages are not enough to attract the necessary workers. International pressure and cheaper food from abroad prevent higher wages. We’ll look at how immigration and trade policies affect wages and labor supply… and celery.

Concepts we cover:

  • Periodic unemployment
  • Structural unemployment
  • Skilled and low-wage workers
  • efficiency wage


Look in the news for stories about hires and layoffs. What kind of jobs are lost? What kind is won? Is the job loss the result of structural unemployment or cyclical unemployment? Show us your findings on social media with #PMSummerSchool.

Econ songs of the summer: Every week we pick a few of our favorites and add them to our playlist. Recommend your favorite on social media. Make sure to use #PMSummerschool.

At Planet Money Summer School, phones are allowed during class. Check out this week’s PM Tik Tok!

Music: I need you, Pacific Thing, Psychistan Surf, sleep agent, Inner Desert Blues & Take this job and slide it, Johnny Paycheck

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