Powell Says Automation May Worsen Inequality in Coming Decades
By Matthew Boesler
(Bloomberg) -- A rise in American workplace automation
could exacerbate inequality in the coming decades, Federal
Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said.
"Are we entering into one of those periods where a lot of
what is now work can be done much more efficiently through
automation, and will that have really challenging distributional
consequences, at least for a few decades? That could be the
case," Powell said Wednesday during a "Fed Listens" event at the
Kansas City Fed.
"The part of this we control, though, is getting people the
skills and talents and aptitudes that they need to be able to
benefit from technology," Powell said. "And I think if we don't
do that, we're just going to see more and more of this, where
some people are just left behind by what work has become."
The U.S. central bank has organized several sessions this
year to gather input from communities across the country on how
it makes policy, as part of a broader internal review. A
panelist at the Kansas City Fed event raised concerns about the
effect of automation on the workforce and asked whether Fed
officials were looking into it, prompting Powell's response.
Inequality has risen dramatically over the past 30 years.
The top 10% of American households by income own 57% of the
country's wealth, up from 47% three decades ago, according to
Powell pointed to a flattening out of educational
attainment since the 1970s.
"The concern that you raise has always been the case, going
back years -- and there have been periods when technology
disrupts workers, and there's a long period during which they do
not benefit," he said. "On the brighter side, though, if those
people do get those skills, then their productivity will go up,
their wages will go up, and everybody can benefit."