Martin Luther King Jr. Warned Us of the Dangers of Job Automation (10 Quotes)

Martin Luther King Jr. predicted in his last book,

“Automation and cybernation will make it possible for working people to have undreamed-of amounts of leisure time.”

But King wrote this was only “possible” because he understood that without a radical redistribution of political and economic power, job automation would lead to ever increasing levels of unemployment and inequality.

Today Oxford predicts technology will eliminate nearly half of all jobs by 2033. It seems Dr. King was even further ahead of his time than we thought.

Here are 10 Martin Luther King Jr. quotes warning us of the dangers of job automation.


Martin Luther King Jr: “New economic patterning through automation is dissolving the jobs of workers in some of the nation’s basic industries. This is to me a catastrophe. We are neither technologically advanced nor socially enlightened if we witness this disaster for tens of thousands without finding a solution. And by a solution, I mean a real and genuine alternative, providing the same living standards which were swept away by a force called progress, but which for some is destruction.
-United Automobile Workers, 25th Anniversary dinner (1961)


Martin Luther King Jr: “Labor has grave problems today of employment, shorter hours, old age security, housing and retraining against the impact of automation. The Congress and the Administration are almost as indifferent to labor’s program as they are toward that of the Negro. Toward both they offer vastly less than adequate remedies for the problems which are a torment to us day after day.”
-United Automobile Workers, District 65 Convention (1962)


Martin Luther King Jr: “If manufacturers are concerned only in their personal interests, they will pass by on the other side while thousands of working people are stripped of their jobs and left displaced on some Jericho road as a result of automation, and they will judge every move towards a better distribution of wealth and a better life for the working man to be socialistic.”
-“On Being a Good Neighbor” in book of sermons “Strength to Love” (1963)


Martin Luther King Jr: “Now, this economic problem is getting more serious because of many forces alive in our world and in our nation. For many years…the forces of labor and industry so often discriminated against Negroes. And this meant that the Negro ended up being limited, by and large, to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now, because of the forces of automation and cybernation, these are the jobs that are now passing away.”
- December 7th, 1964 (Recording was lost and recently discovered in 2015.)


Martin Luther King Jr: The problem of economic deprivation is one of the most serious problems — it may be the most serious problem that the negro confronts. We know that there must be basic economic reforms. We do need…legislation to develop massive public works programs to deal with the problem of unemployment and the problems which are developing as a result of automation and cybernation.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (November 23 1965)
Martin Luther King Jr: At the present time, thousands of jobs a week are disappearing in the wake of automation and other production efficiency techniques. Black and white, we will all be harmed unless something grand and imaginative is done. The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro.”
-Playboy Magazine Interview (1965)


Martin Luther King Jr: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look at thousands of working people displaced from their jobs with reduced incomes as a result of automation while the profits of the employers remain intact, and say: “This is not just.”
-The Three Evils of Society Speech (1967)
Martin Luther King Jr: “One unfortunate thing about Black Power is that it gives priority to race precisely at a time when the impact of automation and other forces have made the economic question fundamental for blacks and whites alike. In this context a slogan “Power for Poor People” would be much more appropriate than the slogan “Black Power”.
Martin Luther King Jr: “Automation is imperceptibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming off unskilled labor from the industrial force. The displaced are flowing into proliferating service occupations. These enterprises are traditionally unorganized and provide low wage scales with longer hours.
-Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

MLK also offered a daring solution to job automation & poverty: A Guaranteed Income.

video by Orf
“The society that performs miracles with machinery has the capacity to make some miracles for men — if it values men as highly as it values machines.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. at UAW (1961)

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