Robots, it turns out, are congregating densely in some places but are hardly found in others. Specifically, the map makes clear that while industrial robots are by no means everywhere, they are clustered heavily in a short list of Midwestern and Southern manufacturing states, especially the upper Midwest.
More than half of the nation’s 233,305 industrial robots are burning welds, painting cars, assembling products, handling materials, or packaging things in just 10 Midwestern and Southern states, led by Michigan (which accounts for nearly 28,000 robots, 12 percent of the nation’s total), Ohio (20,400, 8.7 percent), and Indiana (19,400, 8.3 percent), followed closely by Tennessee. By contrast, the entire West accounts for just 13 percent of the nation’s industrial bots.
Focusing on the largest metros along the Interstate corridor from Indiana to Alabama, auto-intense metro Detroit—with more than 15,000 industrial robots in place or 8.5 per 1,000 workers—dominates the map with more than three times the number of installed robots of other metros. Other major manufacturing centers like Toledo, Grand Rapids, Louisville, and Nashville also loom large. Each of these metros saw a tripling of the number of their robots in operation during the post-crisis auto boom between 2010 and 2015.
The uneven map of industrial robotics makes a simple point about technology change. Automation—like so many other economic trends—won’t occur in the same way everywhere.
Anxiety about robots — like their physical distribution — will also likely have its own geography. On this point, while the nation’s anxiety about automation appears broad and diffuse, the specific facts of robot use suggest that the most significant social impacts of at least this form of automation remain concentrated. Specifically, the robots map suggests that robot and broader economic anxiety (along with associated labor market stresses) may also max out in the industrial Midwest—particularly in such robot-exposed “red” states as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania where the election’s outcome was determined.
It is telling that the robot incidence in red states that voted for President Trump in November is more than twice that in the blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton, according to our
analysis of the IFR data (a finding that parallels an earlier analysis by economist Jed Kolko of the geography of the “routine” jobs deemed vulnerable to automation).
Red State Robots
Top and Bottom 10
Those darn Russians infiltrated the US and planted enough robots in Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin to steal the election from Hillary.
The beehive of Russian activity is centered around Elkhart, Indiana, with an amazing 35.9 robots per 1,000 workers.
More seriously, Trump knew how to tap worker discontent and so did Bernie Sanders. Hillary blames Russia.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock