When you read all the news reports about unemployment shrinking, remember this: Millions of Americans aren’t counted anymore. They’ve stopped looking. Some became self-employed, out of necessity. Others just faded into the shadows.

The country has a growing economy but it also has a shrinking number of quality jobs. And the dislocations, fear and anger that are the result is only going to get worse. A recent report in the Guardian suggests that a “disruptive tidal wave” of automation is upon us that will eliminate another 6 percent of our jobs over the next five years.

While we spend a lot of time blaming trade deals and incompetent politicians for our woes, the silent and underestimated killer of jobs is technology, and now artificial intelligence and robots.

For at least half a century, here in Maine, we’ve been losing jobs that once seemed as though they’d never go away. Our textile and shoe mills succumbed to competition from the south and eventually to Asia. But it wasn’t competition that eliminated the operator on your phone. It was technology. It wasn’t competition alone that shrank the Maine farming sector to a shadow of what it once was; it was the rapid expansion of tractors and other machinery. We lost in-shore fishing jobs to highly efficient trawlers and forestry jobs to skidders and mechanical harvesters.

In every instance, thousands of jobs were replaced with a hundred people with machines.

And the process is now accelerating, with a new generation of intelligent robots set to take jobs in transportation, logistics and consumer services. If you think that’s all far in the future, look more closely at what Uber, Tesla and Google are doing in just the transportation field. Driverless cars are now being tested in Boston and robotic deliveries elsewhere. That technology will be perfected over the next five years, and it will usher in a wave of chaotic change.


Say goodbye to your favorite cab driver. Then do the same with truck drivers, transit operators and lots of pilots. Apply that same intelligent technology to other sectors, all moving at digital speeds. Now take a hard look at your own job. Are you in a place that can’t be replaced with always-learning technology that remembers everything and never takes time off?

Replacing people with machines is great for Wall Street. But it’s a killer for working people who don’t have the skills or education to stay one step ahead of the wave.

And we’re seeing the effects in our politics every day. Each new election seems to bring new heights of outrage and anger, as we struggle to find someone to blame. Immigrants? Welfare cheats? Politicians? Free traders? Banks and Wall Street? Educated elites? Rigged systems? Big money and the filthy rich?

Working-class men without college degrees, in particular, are living through an earthquake of change that never seems to end. What’s at the bottom of it all is simple math. There aren’t as many good jobs as there once were. And there are too many people looking for those jobs.

Maine has a governor who is a product of that anger. Now we have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is a full-throated expression of working-class male anger, particularly among whites.

Some people make the mistake of confusing the symptoms of this anger with its causes. Rising anger isn’t happening because of the politics of rage, or because of the tea party, Paul LePage or Donald Trump. It’s rising because a way of life is vanishing, and along with it the American non-professional middle class.


Politics has certainly played a role, by caving in to business interests that wanted to move jobs and profits offshore to avoid paying decent wages and taxes. But this problem is way bigger than politics, which didn’t start it and can’t end it.

Is there anything we can do? You bet. We can stop waiting for the past to return. We can stop wasting our time trying to find culprits and boogiemen to use as punching bags. And we can stop thinking that politics is we’ll fix everything.

Then, we can try to get our act together, across party and regional lines. We can begin to work together on a broadly shared plan to grow new jobs that can’t be sent offshore or replaced with machines. Jobs that require human ingenuity. That produce quality products that fit the Maine brand. And that are built and sustained, here, by people who call Maine home and aren’t going to leave.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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