Is Job Automation Keeping Down Wages?

February 13, 2020

In a strong labor market, you’d expect workers to be able to negotiate higher wages. But that’s not really happening today. San Francisco Fed economists looked into the story behind the sharp drop in the share of U.S. national income going to workers as compared to 20 years ago.

Why haven’t workers’ wages kept up with productivity? Job automation could be partly to blame. Our video explains.

Has job automation impeded workers’ ability to negotiate higher wages in a strong labor market? Our video sums up research findings from San Francisco Fed economists Sylvain Leduc and Zheng Liu (video, 0:57 minutes).


Job openings are hard for businesses to fill in a strong labor market with low unemployment.

Normally this gives workers the power to ask for higher pay.

But in recent years, workers have not seen their wages rise, even though the labor market has been very strong.

Instead, the share of U.S. national income that goes to workers has dropped sharply compared with 20 years ago.

Why hasn’t workers’ pay kept up with productivity?

One reason could be that it’s easier to automate certain jobs.

When businesses can replace workers with robots, they gain an advantage in deciding how much to pay workers.

This means workers could lose the power to negotiate higher wages.

Research shows that automation has contributed significantly to the drop in labor’s share of income.

The threat of automation has also kept wage growth stagnant in the current strong labor market.

You may also like:

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.