NEW: Jeff Greene summit warns of “massive job destruction”


The U.S. labor market officially has returned to full employment, but workers face an uncertain future that could include the widespread loss of jobs to robots and automation.

How to cope with an epidemic of layoffs and joblessness was the topic of a daylong gathering Monday in Palm Beach. Real estate billionaire Jeff Greene hosted the Managing the Disruption conference, which attracted pundits, politicians and business leaders.

“We’re heading into a period of massive, massive job destruction because of technology,” Greene said.

While the decades after World War II were a golden age for moderately skilled American workers, factory jobs already are gone, and many other middle-class jobs could disappear, said speakers at Greene’s conference. One technologist said the future is certain to resemble a science fiction movie. The only question is whether it’ll follow a dystopian plot or a utopian one.

“We have a choice right now between Mad Max and Star Trek,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

Author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted the dramatic changes in recent decades. During the heyday of America’s industrial age, when unskilled, high-paying jobs were abundant, white male workers had to make an effort to be poor, Friedman said.

Now, he said, all workers — not just white men — are faced with a new economic reality that includes the squeezing of workers with middling skills. Friedman and other speakers said American workers now must continually learn new skills if they hope to stay employed.

“Today, you need a plan to succeed, and you need to update it every single day,” Friedman said. “That is just really hard for a lot of people to do.”

The audience included film director Oliver Stone, former U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson and former Apple CEO John Sculley. Friedman told them that technological advancements have accelerated over the past decade.

“There is a complete mismatch between the pace of change and the ability of humans and societies to adapt,” Friedman said.

Some observers look to a future of massive unemployment and say the government should provide a “universal basic income,” a subsistence wage for workers who are too young for Social Security.

But former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is skeptical. Summers noted that giving $25,000 a year to each of the 200 million adults in the country would cost $5 trillion. Revenue from income taxes is about $1 trillion.

“It’s almost impossible to make the arithmetic work,” Summers said.

CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow said the U.S. economy simply needs to return to the solid growth it enjoyed for decades. He said President Donald Trump’s tax plan — which Kudlow helped craft — would spur business spending and boost hiring.

“It will give a jolt — a jolt — to the economy that we will see immediately,” Kudlow said.

Others weren’t so optimistic. Sarah Kunst, a millennial and founder of Proday.co, said young people face the challenges of a weak job market and rising home prices. And student debt is a drag, even for those who are industrious enough to try to use their wages to pay their tuition.

“It’s physically impossible to work your way through college with your clothes on, because it’s just too expensive,” Kunst said.



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