WASHINGTON — One third of able-bodied American men between 25 and 54 could be out of job by 2050, contends the author of “The Future of Work: Robots, AI and Automation.”
“We’re already at 12% of prime-aged men without jobs,” said Darrell West, vice president of the Brookings Institution think tank, at a forum in Washington, D.C. on Monday. That number has grown steadily over the past 60 years, but it could triple in the next 30 years because of new technology such as artificial intelligence and automation.
It could be even worse for some parts of the population, West argued. The rate for unemployment of young male African Americans, for instance, is likely to reach 50% by 2050.
“That, my friends, is a catastrophe,” West said.
A lot of things can be done to avert such a problem and rethinking education is one of them, West said. “Schools need to change their curriculum so that students have the skills needed in the 21st century economy.”
Molly Kinder, senior adviser at progressive think tank New America, said the current state of manufacturing tells a story that will be seen see across many occupations. Jobs that don’t require advanced education will be replaced by automation, displacing low-wage, low-skilled workers.
Public policymakers need to make education, especially in technology, for low-skill workers a priority to combat the potential for soaring unemployment rates, she said.
Many are already hurt by the technology shift. Some 6% of all adults say they lost a job or had their pay or hours reduced because of automation, according to a Pew Research study published in October. And 65% of adults believe most stores will be fully automated in 20 years and require little human interaction.
West’s new book focused a lot of his attention on use of robotics in the service industry. In the book he quotes Andrew Puzder, former CEO of Hardee’s parent company CKE, as saying that digital devices are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
Yet what executives might see as a good business move is a source of fear and uncertainty for others. The prospect of being replaced by automation is troubling for a number of young members of the workforce.
About 37% of millennials are at high risk of having their job replaced by artificial intelligence or automation, says a study published by Gallup in June. Among those, one-third are struggling with workplace anxiety, worry about being laid off or their jobs being outsourced.
According to Gallup, many companies successfully manage employees’ fears through future readiness audits. One manufacturing company teaches its employees statistics and coding skills as well as how to incorporate data and analytics into their everyday life. This helps to prepare employees for an artificial intelligence driven future, Gallup said.
But, on a nationwide scale, the policies are not in place to help workers adjust to these changes, according to Kinder.
And that future may arrive much quicker than most members of the workforce think. According to that same Gallup poll, 59% of executives believe that data science and analytical skills will be essential communication skills within their companies in five years.