Is Labor Day an endangered holiday?

David Ruth

Jade Boyd

Is Labor Day an endangered holiday?

HOUSTON — (Sept. 1, 2016) — With U.S. labor force participation at 62 percent and declining, Rice University artificial-intelligence expert Moshe Vardi is available to discuss whether Labor Day will remain a meaningful holiday in a society where fewer than 50 percent of workers actually hold jobs.

“The more commonly reported measures of unemployment do not capture the depth of the social change that is occurring due to robotics and automation,” said Vardi, Rice’s Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor of Computational Engineering and director of Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology. “In the United States, manufacturing output is at an all-time high while manufacturing employment is steadily falling. This is largely because of robotics, and there are other industries, particularly transportation and retail, where robotics is poised to eliminate millions of jobs in the next 20 years.

“Young adults entering the U.S. workforce this Labor Day could spend as many as half of their prime working years in a society where most people don’t work,” Vardi said. “What will that mean for them? What will it mean for society?”

One possibility is a minimum salary for everyone, regardless of whether they are actually employed. Vardi said a number of proposals for Universal Basic Income (UBI) are either being piloted or seriously debated in Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and other countries.

Vardi, who has been studying automation and labor trends for several years, said more attention should be given to the economic, social and political consequences of substituting machines for human workers. He is organizing an academic conference — the first in the U.S. — Dec. 5-6 at Rice titled “Humans, Machines and the Future of Work.” For more information, visit

To arrange an interview with Vardi, email or contact David Ruth at or 713-348-6327 or Jade Boyd at or 713-348-6778.


Humans, Machines and the Future of Work
De Lange Conference X, Dec. 5-6
Rice University

Related columns and presentations by Vardi:

Jobs. Driving. And machines that can learn.
Houston Chronicle/Gray Matters — May 25, 2016

Are robots taking our jobs?
The Conversation — April 6, 2016

Humans, machines and the future of work
Video presentation from Oxford University — Dec. 18, 2015

The consequences of machine intelligence
The Atlantic — Oct. 25, 2012


Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,910 undergraduates and 2,809 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for best quality of life and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.