Findings of Shift: The Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology


What do a hundred American leaders find when they compare different possibilities for the effect of technology on work’s future?

The future of work is already here in the present.

After a year of imagining the future of work 10–20 years from now, led by (national think tank) New America and (technology company) Bloomberg, and powered by discussions with more than 100 leaders across all walks of American life, a survey of American workers, conversations about automated trucks with truckers, discussions with people who provide eldercare to their families, and lots of background research… we are honored to present our findings.

We took (a different take) on this issue than many others: The future is impossible to predict, so we compared four scenarios along two dimensions — with more work and less, more “taskification” of jobs and less — and we believe these are four possible futures of work in America.

Across all four there are common issues: Most importantly, workers crave stability. On average, only people who make $150,000 a year or more say they value doing work that is important to them. Everyone else prioritizes an income that is stable and secure. Yet fewer than half of Americans earn a stable amount every month.

Even those who are doing well today are understandably nervous about the future — and they believe, perhaps mistakenly, that their prospects for the future are better than the date suggest. (Take their views of their children: 73% think their kids will earn more than they do, yet fewer than half do today.)

In all four futures, we must address our slowing economic vitality — a dynamism that has, contrary to popular belief in the technology industry, not been accelerating. Sustained investment in technology by all sectors will need to be part of the solution, and slowing or avoiding technological change is a misguided attempt to put genies back into bottles.

Across all scenarios, we need an economy that offers more and better work to older people — with each passing year, there will be more and more older people willing and able to work, perhaps in non-traditional jobs.

Across all, we need to figure out how to land the rewards of work in places all across the country that are left behind.

In the “Go” and “Jump Rope” scenarios, we continue our frenetic pace of work and need to figure out the relationship between workers and their employers — changes to how governments regulate different kinds of work and new social safety nets among others.

In the “King of the Castle” and “Rock-Paper-Scissors” scenarios, we need to urgently — even more urgently than today — raise the floor for those who are worst off.

Debates about the future of work that are based on predictions should remember John Kenneth Galbraith’s reminder that “We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don’t know — and those who don’t know they don’t know.”

We don’t know, and the debate over what will happen (“will the robots take all the jobs”) is distracting us from dealing with technology’s effects today. We hope this report gives people in technology, government, civil society, the arts, business, academia, and everywhere else the foundation to describe the problem to each other.

You can read our report here.

We are grateful for the members of our commission traveling far and wide and lending us their focused attention; the wide range of working people who spoke with us; the scholars and institutes and companies who devoted prior study to this issue; the tireless staff that dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s, and, most important, you — who must, as we all must, be part of the solution.

We hope our findings prompt you to think differently and deeply about what may be the most important issue of our era.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is president and CEO of New America. Roy Bahat is the head of Bloomberg Beta, the venture fund backed by Bloomberg L.P. Roy and Anne-Marie co-chaired Shift.

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