Help Wanted

Yesterday on my way to get lunch I passed two restaurants and one retail store in a nearby strip center. All three businesses had Help Wanted signs in the windows.

This is admittedly a small sample, but we have seen some solid economic growth in the past several months and both legal and illegal immigration are way down. According to the Labor Department we are close to full employment. Even some lost souls that fell out of the labor force are slowly making their way back.

Could we be headed for a labor shortage? If so, what will American employers do? Will there be calls for more legal immigration (which I have advocated for many years), or will businesses try new technologies? McDonald’s is experimenting with automating several tasks now performed by humans.

Here’s what I see: Political pressures and a growing fear of terrorism will slow or stop any immigration policy changes in the near future. Even if both sides could agree on some changes the implementation will be slow, because, you know, it’s the federal government.

In the meantime, automation technologies have received gobs of venture capital funding (driverless cars alone are in the billions) and there have been significant breakthroughs as computing power has grown geometrically.

My money is on the robots.

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