You often hear about all of the jobs that machines have destroyed in America – putting farmers, factory workers, and even secretaries out of work. But you don’t often hear about the jobs that machines have created.
Quoctrung Bui of NPR created a series of charts to show that the relationship between mechanization and job creation is more complex than you might think. Yes, technology has led to a decline in agricultural and blue-collar jobs, but the proportion and total number of U.S. workers employed in service and white-collar jobs has increased a lot.
The chart on the left above shows the percentage of jobs in the U.S. economy, broken down into farming, blue-collar, service and white-color work from 1850 to today. The chart on the right shows the absolute number of jobs in these categories.
As Bui writes, you can see the impact that agricultural technology, including the tractor and chemical fertilizers, had on farming jobs in the U.S. The number of farmers in the early 20th Century declined significantly. But as technology made food cheaper, people had more money to spend on TVs, radios, and other appliances, and factory jobs grew.
The second major change came at the end of the 20th Century, when robotics ate away at blue-collar jobs. But that also reduced the cost of manufactured goods, allowing people to spend more on services, including restaurants, entertainment, health care and education. The rise of computers also led to a boom in white-collar jobs.
Bui has also created a series of interactives that show you how individual jobs fared over the decade – including secretaries, miners, bookkeepers and factory workers. You can see those interactives here.