Although the current unemployment rate now stands at just 5.0 percent, many economists concede that the real figure is much higher. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U-6 rate (total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons) measures underemployment at 10 percent. If we add in people who have given up looking for work altogether, the number is higher still.
What is the root cause of persistent underemployment in the United States today? The short answer is technology. Knowledge-based societies are becoming highly computational. Where the Agricultural Revolution harnessed domesticated animals for pastoral farming, and the Industrial Revolution adapted machines for factory production, so today the Computational Revolution is advancing computers to augment machine intelligence. Together software algorithms, computer-aided design, data analytics, and machine learning are beginning to disrupt the institutions and economic practices that anchor postindustrial societies. As this “computational knowledge economy” expands and matures, it is facilitating deep structural changes in the U.S. labor force.