Those who dismiss the technological jobs apocalypse as hysteria are in for a rude awakening. Brookings Institute researchers estimate 61% of American workers face a serious risk of technological unemployment with a decade.
“By 2030, some 25 percent of U.S. employment will have experienced high exposure to automation, while another 36 percent of U.S. employment will experience medium exposure, and another 39 percent will experience low exposure,” a Brookings press release states. The release is for Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places a report Brookings released on 24 January 2019.
If Brookings’ data is correct one out of four American workers faces a high risk of technological unemployment. Consequently, America could face an unemployment rate as high as that during the Great Depression in 2030, just 11 years from now. In detail, the highest measured unemployment rate in US history was 24.9% in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression.
The Technology Jobs Apocalypse will lead to Civil Unrest
Frighteningly, Brookings’ data shows why the jobs apocalypse could lead to violence and civil unrest. Machines and algorithms are most likely to replace the uneducated, young men, and people of color.
Specifically, 47% of Hispanics, 45% of Native Americans, 44% of blacks, 40% of whites, and 39% of Asians and Pacific Islanders work in jobs vulnerable to automation, Brookings calculates. Meanwhile, 49% of those between 16 and 24 hold jobs vulnerable to technology.
Thus those with the fewest economic resources will bear the brunt of the employment apocalypse. For instance, the average individual income for an African American in 2017 was $22,175 a year, Black Demographics estimates. Meanwhile, the 2017 income for a black man with a job was $40,370.
Finally, “Occupations not requiring a bachelor’s degree” are a staggering 229% more susceptible to automation compared to occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, the press release warns. We could face a situation where there are no jobs for those without a college degree.
Technological Unemployment How Safe is Your Job?
The most frightening aspect of Brookings’ report is an interactive feature that shows how vulnerable specific jobs are to automation. Disturbingly, technology is most likely to delete the positions held by the poorest and least-educated.
The most vulnerable jobs to technological unemployment include:
- Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders – 100%.
- Food Preparation Workers – 91.4%
- Waiters and Waitresses – 76.9%
- Dishwashers – 85.6%
- Paperhangers – 84.7%
- Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians – 77.2%
- Mail Clerks and Mail Machine Operators – 93.7%
- Word Processors and Typists – 90.4%
- Billing and Posting Clerks – 87.6%
- Data Entry Keyers – 86.5%
- Bookkeeping Accounting, and Auditing Clerks – 85.6%
- Postal Workers – 80.1%
- Legal Secretaries – 77.9%
- All Other Office and Administrative Workers – 72.5%
- Crane and Tower Operators – 84.5%
- Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators – 82.1%
- Heavy and Tractor Trail Truck Drivers – 81.4%
- Packers and Packagers -79.5%
- Restaurant Cooks – 84%
- Automotive Body and Related Repairers – 85.4%
- Driver/Sales Workers – 81.4%
- Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers – 78.2%
- School Bus Drivers – 77.7%
- Subway and Streetcar Operators – 94.5%
- Automotive Glass Installers and Repairers – 88%
- Tire Repairers and Changers – 92.1%
- Transit and Intercity Bus Drivers – 85.4%
- Industrial Truck and Track Operators – 91.7%
- Agriculture Equipment Operators – 84.1%
- Pharmacy Technicians – 70.1%
- Parts Salespersons – 84.5%
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants – 69.2%
- Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians – 64.1%
Technology threatens high-paying Jobs
I find three aspects of this list particularly frightening. First, there are many good paying and even “middle-class” jobs on it. For example, the average salary for an aircraft mechanic on 1 June 2019 was $25.44 an hour, Indeed.com estimates.
Meanwhile, the average pay for an automotive glass installer was $15.82 an hour, Payscale calculates. Moreover, the average way for an industrial truck and tractor operator was $16.99 an hour, Payscale estimates.
Notably, the average base pay for a Tower Crane Operator in 2019 was $175,924 a year, Glassdoor calculates. Thus, some well-paid people could see their incomes disappear because of technology.
Technology Threatens Social Status
Second, technology threatens the social status of a lot of Americans. Paralegals, legal secretaries, mail clerks, bus drivers, and bookkeepers may not be affluent; but those jobs have a firm middle-class social status.
Historically, loss of social status is more likely to spark violence than loss of income. Attacks on black families that tried to move into white working-class neighborhoods, were an example of this. Insecure poor whites attacked blacks because they thought their social status was under threat.
Now we face a situation in which millions of Americans could lose their social status. In particular, many under-educated women are losing their office jobs, and finding themselves back waiting tables, mopping floors, and bagging groceries.
Technology Threatens the Poor
Third, many of the jobs Americans fall back upon in times of economic distress are under threat.
Machines could replace up to 76.9% of the waiters and waitresses, Brookings claims. That’s a direct threat to the poor because many families rely on the tips and food waiting tables can provide.
Waitresses’ pay is terrible; but most of them can usually get a free meal and even take food home to the family. Plus, cash tips are often the only grocery money some families have.
Likewise, cooking, dishwashing, and food service, are often the only jobs uneducated black men, ex-convicts, and recent immigrants can get. Yet Brookings estimates 84.5%; 85.6% of cooks, and 53.7% of chefs and head cooks are vulnerable to automation. Even 67.5% of bartenders; a popular fallback job for office workers and college students, could be vulnerable.
The Robots are Coming for Working-Class Jobs
Moreover, the the threat robots pose to the working class is growing. Notably, Jeff Bezos believes robots with hands as flexible as human hands could be available within a decade, Reuters reports.
“I think grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years,” Bezos told a crowd at the re:Mars Conference on 6 June 2019. Grasping hands will be necessary for robots to perform basic labor lisuch as cooking, mixing drinks, packing Amazon orders, stocking shelves, and moving boxes in warehouses.
Consequently, the number of people needing low-income jobs could explode when the number of low-income jobs is falling. Obviously, Brookings’ numbers are just projections but the implications are clear.
There will be Violence and Luddites
History shows such disruptions lead to violence and even gives us a word to describe such outbursts. The word is Luddite and it refers to a wave of violent attacks on industrial machines in early 19th Century England.
The Luddites were higher-paid skilled artisans who were being replaced by new technologies like mechanized looms. Notably, loss of social status was as big a motivator for the Luddites as loss of income. To explain, Luddites hated being forced back into manual labor and a lower social status by machines.
Luddite violence became so bad that the British government had to deploy the Regular Army to suppress them. This led to pitched battles between the Luddites and His Majesty’s troops. In fact, at one time more British soldiers were fighting the Luddites in the North of England than Napoleon’s armies on the Continent.
Given this history, technological unemployment is likely to trigger violence and unrest in parts of the United States. Working-class whites; who have a long history of labor unrest and racial violence, are likely to be at the forefront of the violence.
An obvious example of 21st Century Luddite violence could be attacks on self-driving vehicles or robot smashing. Frighteningly, The New York Times reports attacks on self-driving cars have already begun in Arizona.
Where the Jobs will Disappear
Like its’ English predecessor, the 21st Century American Luddite revolt will break out in specific areas. Interestingly, Brookings projects many areas have a greater risk of unemployment by technology.
For instance, 46.5% of the jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region are highly vulnerable to job-killing tech. Since the population of the Greater Fort Worth and Dallas area is around 3.542 million, that’s 1.647 million people facing loss of jobs, income, and social status in one area.
Nor is it just Dallas, Brookings estimates technology threatens 46.5% of the jobs in Cleveland; 46.3% of the employees in Houston, 47.6% of the workers in California’s Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside), 45.3% of the jobs in Chicagoland, 46.1% of the positions in Providence, Rhode Island, 46.3% of the jobs in Orlando, and 45.6% of the jobs in Greater Los Angeles. Thus, some of our largest cities could deal with an unemployment rate approaching 45% in a little over a decade.
Even if Brookings’ projections are off by 50%, Dallas and Fort Worth could face an unemployment rate of 23.25%. That is Great Depression level unemployment and a likely cause of regional violence. Therefore, riot cop could be one of the few growth occupations in America in 2030.
Why there will be Violence
Violence could break out because I do not see America’s truck drivers, bookkeepers, legal secretaries, and crane operators surrendering their social status without a fight.
Nor are the solutions for technological unemployment the intelligentsia is proposing likely to help. Full employment through the jobs guarantee; in particular, sounds like a recipe for discontent to me.
Under a jobs guarantee, the government provides “work” for everybody who cannot find it. Unfortunately, the “jobs” government provides are not likely to be high paying or very satisfying.
Nor are guarantee jobs likely to offer any social status. Given the terrible way Americans already treat people on food stamps, people will stigmatize the guarantee workers as lazy, incompetent, childlike, and stupid.
Plus, I predict guarantee jobs will offend many workers unemployed by technology. “Jobs” raking leaves and picking up garbage in the park are not likely to satisfy ex-truck drivers, for example. Nor will shelving library books; or working as a crossing guard, appeal to former legal secretaries. Yet a jobs guarantee seems to be the best solution the brains at think tanks like the Brookings Institutions can come up with.
Education will Not Save Us
Nor is education likely to save us. We could probably retrain a 26-year-old ex-auto glass repairer to fix robots or become a plumber. But expecting a 55-year-old ex-truck driver; or a 46-year-old former bank teller, to go back to school is ludicrous.
Thus we will need a package of solutions for the technological jobs apocalypse. A few potential solutions include a basic income, presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s (D-New York) Freedom Dividend, more small business loans, and free higher and vocational education for all Americans.
One thing is certain we need to think about the technology jobs apocalypse now. If do not, America could face the worst civil unrest, social upheaval, and violence it has seen since the 1890s within a decade.