Automation will make many people jobless in five to 10 years, and they may need a subsidy to live on, an economist predicted Thursday in Findlay.

“The reality is that 40 percent of the U.S. is low-skill workers, and those folks are not going to have jobs in the future,” said Jim Robey, director of regional economic planning services for the W.E. Upjohn Institute, Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was part of a panel discussion of the impact of rising automation.

Low-skill jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors will be vanishing rapidly, Robey told area executives.

“In five to 10 years from now, we’re going to be having a labor surplus,” he said.

It’s a troubling prediction: More workers than jobs.

“It’s just a concern that with automation across both goods-producing and services, will we get so efficient that we don’t need all the workers we have?” Robey said after speaking on the panel.

This raises a difficult question: How will surplus, unneeded workers get by financially?

“You’ve heard Bill Gates and others talk about universal basic income and other things. Will we get to a point that we have to subsidize people to simply live?” Robey asked rhetorically.

Under a system of universal basic income, all citizens of a country would be entitled to a specified amount of money on top of income they already generate through other means.

“In reality, for a quality of life, (citizens) have to have more than just a subsidy. They have to have an affordable level of income,” Robey said.

More difficult questions.

“How do we pay for that?”

The rise of automation also will challenge many small- to medium-size businesses, said Robey and Tom Ballay, president of Autotec Engineering, Toledo.

“They don’t have the people in their workforce that know how to prepare them, and it’s a really big deal,” Ballay said.

Small- and medium-size businesses will have difficulty affording the new technology necessary to compete, Robey said.

The panel discussion was sponsored by Gilmore Jasion Mahler public accounting firm.

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