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America’s Uneven Future of Work

Because automation and artificial intelligence will change the nature of work for everyone, Americans who are vulnerable to technological disruption would appear to have been created equal. In fact, some workers are more equal than others.

BERKELEY – The US labor market is posting healthy numbers – for now. Yet Americans’ economic prospects vary significantly, depending on who they are and where they live, and these differences will sharpen as the pace of automation picks up in the decade ahead.

For starters, some of the US economy’s largest occupational categories – food service, office support, manufacturing production, and retail and customer service – are highly exposed to labor-saving automation. Moreover, new research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that job displacement within these sectors is likely to be heavily concentrated among specific demographic groups.

Educational attainment emerges as the most critical factor determining the probability of automation-related job loss. Individuals with a high-school diploma or less are four times as likely to be in highly automatable roles than are individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. People with no postsecondary education account for more than three-quarters of the overall displacement that could occur by 2030, based on a mid-point scenario of the pace of automation.

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