On a visit to Standard Motor Products’ fuel-injector assembly line in South Carolina, Atlantic writer Adam Davidson asked why a worker there, Maddie, was welding caps onto the injectors herself. Why not use a machine? That’s how a lot of the factory’s other tasks were performed. Maddie’s supervisor, Tony, had a bracing, direct answer: “Maddie is cheaper than a machine.”
Davidson’s complex, poignant story, Making It in America, revealed some chilling data about where American manufacturing is headed. It’s a matter of simple math. Maddie makes less in two years than a $100,000 machine would cost, so her job is safe—for now.
Elsewhere in America, robots are getting cheaper and more sophisticated, and they’re landing better, more advanced jobs. They are driving cars, writing newspaper articles, and filling prescriptions, displacing people with years of schooling and training under their belts. It sounds like a classic sci-fi story, but that disconcerting future isn’t in the future. It’s here today.
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