The changing nature of work in the 21st century and the widening gap in income has led to a vibrant debate about the role of technology in shaping future labor markets and overall economic well-being. For at least a decade, the debate had two clear sides: a) that technology inevitably drives the polarization of the labor market and growing income inequality, and b) that the hollowing out of American jobs is the result of a host of policies that have put downward pressure on wage growth and job creation. Recently, we have seen a more balanced view emerge: technology, alongside poor policy choices, has played and could well continue to play a significant role in reducing both the political and workplace power of American workers.
As a result, newer research questions have arisen: How has technology shaped not just the number of jobs but also the nature of work? How will new economic opportunities (or constraints) affect people of color, young people, and others who have traditionally faced discrimination or lacked opportunity? And how can we develop policies that seek to balance the creation of good jobs with an acknowledgement that sharing economies, second economies, and other very different structures are presenting challenges as well as opportunities for workers? The ultimate question, then, is not only whether it will “be different this time,” but also how, precisely, technology will change life for various kinds of American workers.
U.S. Programs’ Future of Work inquiry commissioned the Roosevelt Institute to examine major perspectives on the role of technology in shaping the future of work. In Technology and the Future of Work: The State of the Debate, the Roosevelt Institute offers a comprehensive, nuanced, and timely overview of the current literature.