The declining economic value of routine cognitive work
Workforce data show that U.S. employees continue to do more non-routine cognitive and interpersonal work. [Note: these data tend to be fairly similar for most developed countries, not just the U.S.]
Fewer and fewer employment opportunities exist in America for both routine cognitive work and manual labor, and the gap is widening over the decades. Unless they’re location-dependent, manual labor jobs often are outsourced to cheaper locations overseas. Unless they’re location-dependent, routine cognitive jobs are increasingly being replaced both by cheaper workers overseas and by software algorithms.
What kind of schoolwork do most American students do most of the time? Routine cognitive work. What kind of work is emphasized in nearly all of our national and state assessment schemes? Routine cognitive work. For what kind of work do traditionalist parents and politicians continue to advocate? Routine cognitive work.
Some information from Autor & Price (2013) that may be helpful…
- Routine manual tasks – activities like production and monitoring jobs performed on an assembly line; easily automated and often replaced by machines; picking, sorting, repetitive assembly (p. 2)
- Non-routine manual tasks – activities that demand situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and perhaps in-person interaction; require modest amounts of training; activities like driving a truck, cleaning a hotel room, or preparing a meal (pp. 2-3)
- Routine mental tasks – activities that are sufficiently well-defined that they can be carried out by a less-educated worker in a developing country with minimal discretion; also increasingly replaced by computer software algorithms; activities like bookkeeping, clerical work, information processing and record-keeping (e.g., data entry), and repetitive customer service (pp. 1-2)
- Non-routine mental tasks – activities that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity; facilitated and complemented by computers, not replaced by them; hypothesis testing, diagnosing, analyzing, writing, persuading, managing people; typical of professional, managerial, technical, and creative professions such as science, engineering, law, medicine, design, and marketing (p. 2)