At a Democratic presidential primary debate, several of the candidates got into a tiff about job losses. Andrew Yang asserted that automation is a primary cause of job losses, and both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders seemed to agree. As a remedy, Yang proposed a universal basic income, and Sanders argued for a federal job guarantee. Elizabeth Warren disagreed, declaring that “the principal reason [for job loss] has been bad trade policy.” Associated Press fact checkers agreed with Yang, saying that “economists mostly blame those job losses on automation and robots, not trade deals.”
The facts aren’t nearly as clear as the AP would have us believe, and the causes of job losses are still debated among economists.
Total job losses during the past decade were mostly caused by two things -- recessions and aging. The Great Recession caused widespread job losses and led to a hiring slowdown. After the recession, the prime-age employment rate recovered, but because of the retirement of the baby boomers, the overall employment rate is lower than before.