WASHINGTON, D.C. — February 1, 2019 — A new study by the Brookings Institution predicts that robots will begin to take more manual labor and repetitive task jobs from Americans over the next two decades. According to an article by Wired Magazine, as machines and their software become more sophisticated, one in four jobs may become partially or completely automated in the next 20 years. The Brookings Institution analysis suggests that the automation impacts will be felt most heavily among the young, minorities, and men because these groups tend to be overrepresented in manual labor, repetitive task, and entry-level jobs like construction, manufacturing, and food service.
For example, among workers aged 16 to 24, half of their tasks on average could soon be automated, compared with 40 percent of the tasks of older workers, according to Wired Magazine. Similar trends in automation impacts can be found when comparing minority workers to white workers and men to women. There are geographic differences as well as smaller cities tend to have more jobs vulnerable to automation while larger urban centers have a higher concentration of more complex or highly skilled jobs that are not as easy to automate, such as those in the legal, medical, or political sectors.
While the study’s predicted effects are focused on changes coming in the next two decades, the impact of automation can already be felt in the U.S. economy. Wired Magazine points out that brick and mortar retailers like Sears and Brookstone are going bankrupt while online retailer Amazon employs nearly as many robots as humans in its U.S. warehouses (approximately 100,000 robots to 125,000 workers). Automation is also impacting food service workers as robotic food processing and app or kiosk ordering become more popular, according to Wired Magazine.
The continued automation of these and other industries is inevitable as technology advances but studying the likely effects and inequalities of automation is still important. Hyejin Youn, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, explains that “To make better policy you want to know the detailed numbers to know where to focus investment in things like reskilling workers,” according to Wired Magazine. Mark Muro, senior fellow at Brookings, reports that the automation transition will likely be manageable for most workers who have a bachelor’s degree, according to Wired Magazine, and typically new technology also creates new jobs. However, Muro goes on to say, “What is less reassuring is that beneath that broader arc, there is significant variation across geography and demographics.”
As the technology for AI continues to advance and robots become ever more sophisticated and efficient, business owners and workers alike would be wise to prepare for the potential automation impacts of the near future.