A National Academy of Sciences panel yesterday predicted technology will raise American standards of living and help make U.S. industries more competitive, but the group simultaneously called for new aid for workers who lose their jobs because of technological change.
The study was commissioned because of concerns that new technology was costing American workers jobs and forcing many to exchange high-salaried manufacturing work for lower paying jobs in the service sector.
"After two years of study, I'm happy to tell you that dire projections about declines in the U.S. work force due to technological change are exaggerated," said Richard Cyert, president of Carnegie-Mellon University and chairman of the academy's panel on technology and employment.
"Technological change is, in fact, a vital factor for continued economic growth and expanding opportunities for U.S. workers," because it adds to American productivity, he added. "Less labor to create higher-quality products at less cost means that new technologies help to raise standards of living for the general population."
The panel said it found no evidence to justify the view of some economists that new technologies have polarized the American work force into an upper class of workers with high-paying technical jobs and a low-paid force of unskilled workers. Cyert said blue collar workers lost low-paying manufacturing jobs because American industries were too slow to adopt new technologies.
But after endorsing the virtues of technology, the panel of scientists, academics and representatives from industry and labor endorsed a major legislative goal of labor unions by calling for increased government assistance to workers thrown off the job, including giving them advance notice of plant closing or layoffs.
The Reagan administration is opposed to both increased assistance to workers who lose their jobs and to forcing companies to give advance notice of plant closing or layoffs. Both proposals are part of trade legislation now working its way through Congress.
The panel said slow adoption of new technology made American companies more vulnerable to international competition, forcing them to close plants and lay off workers.
"The key is that technology is not the problem, but the solution," said Cyert. "We must get a more rapid use of new technology, but we have to do it in a humane way that allows the work force to adapt to changing technology."
To accomplish this, the panel recommended increased assistance to U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of imports or technological change. It suggested expanding aid to displaced workers beyond the $980 million the administration supports. And it said workers should know in advance about plant closings because the warning gives them more time to plan career changes and to put any adjustment aid to better use.
House and Senate committees have approved plant closing notice rules, and the Senate is likely to consider them as part of trade legislation due to come up next week.