UNION — US Senator Lindsey Graham says that the rapid advance of technology in the form of the increasing use of robots in not only manufacturing but also in the service industry combined with the rise of shopping online will radically transform the American economy and the nation must prepare to successfully adapt to that transformation.
Graham visited Union Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with local officials at Main Street Junction on Main Street in downtown Union. During the meeting, Graham spoke on a variety of issues both national and local in their impact, among them the move by more and more industries to replace human workers with machines. He said the changes, which are already well under way, will accelerate in the years to come and have a dramatic impact on the economy, particularly in the are of job opportunities.
“The real challenge is the machines are coming,” Graham said. “Ten years from now machines and one or two people will be behind the counter at McDonald’s.”
Graham said that these changes mean that for most working Americans working full-time for the same company for the rest of their working life will increasingly be a thing of the past. Instead, he sees most Americans working part-time for a series of employers throughout their working lives. He said the federal government will have to address this issue by passing legislation that will enable and encourage employers to provide pay and benefits for part-time workers that will allow the country to transition and adapt to the changes in employment resulting from the technological revolution.
One industry that Graham said he believes machines will not replace humans is healthcare. He said he believes this will be the case because, first, the Baby Boomers are aging, and, secondly, “the human touch cannot be replaced by a machine.”
Another technology-driven revolution that is even more advanced that the replacement of human workers with robots, is online shopping which Graham said has already had a damaging impact on traditional retailers like Sears and K-Mart. Graham said he never thought he’d live to see the day that companies like Sears and K-Mart would be going out of business, but that is what is happening. He attributed this to the rise of online shopping by consumers who are increasingly shopping online with companies like Amazon through their computer rather than physically traveling to and shopping in stores like Sears and K-Mart.
While the closing of such traditional retailers will also have an impact on employment, Graham said its main impact is on sales tax revenue which are big funding sources for states like South Carolina and localities like Union County and the City of Union. Currently, there is no sale tax on online sales and Graham said this is going to have to change to prevent localities and states from losing vitally needed revenue as traditional retailers like Sears and K-Mart loses business and go out of business. Graham said that what is needed is a national program of taxing online sales — something he said Amazon has expressed support for — and sending that revenue back to the states and localities. He said this is another issue the federal government will have to address to enable the country to transition and adapt to the changes brought about by the technological revolution.
Among those attending Wednesday’s’s meeting were representatives of USC Union and the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College as well as the Union County Economic Development Board. In discussing the issues with them and the other officials in attendance, Graham said “education is the lifeblood of workforce development” and stressed that education will be a key factor in preparing the current and succeeding generations to deal with the technologically-driven changes in the American economy. He applauded the efforts of local educational institutions to not only provide that training, but also to inform young people of the educational and job opportunities offered and the connections between the two.
For more about Sen. Graham’s visit to Union and his meeting with local officials, see upcoming editions of The Union Times and on our website (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page.