Making Under $20 An Hour? Watch Out For The Rise Of The Machines

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A senior economic adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama has issued a warning to lower-wage earners: You risk losing your job to a machine.

“Technological advances in recent decades have brought tremendous benefits but have also contributed to increasing inequality and falling [workforce] participation,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a speech in New York last week.

automated checkout
Self-service checkout aisles at supermarkets are a sign that lower-wage jobs are being taken by machines, says Jason Furman, chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers. (Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

A 2013 study from the University of Oxford found that 47 per cent of existing U.S. employment is at risk of automation. Furman’s council took that data and analyzed it to see how it would impact people at different points on the income ladder.

What they found was that lower-wage earners would be disproportionately affected. Those earning under US$20 an hour have an 83-per-cent chance of losing their jobs to machines. Those earning above $40 have only a four per cent chance of being replaced by software or a robot.

likelihood of job automation

“This means a large decline in the demand for less-skilled jobs and little decline in the demand for higher-skilled jobs,” Furman said.

“If anything, the new trends could put more pressure on earnings inequality.”

Furman said the evidence of automation is already all around us — "for example, when we go shopping and take our groceries to a kiosk instead of a cashier, or when we call a customer service help line and interact with an automated customer service representative.”

(H/t: Quartz)

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