Few U.S. Workers Worry About Tech Making Their Job Obsolete

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The FINANCIAL — Amid the steady stream of news about driverless cars, artificial intelligence and robots supplanting humans in the workplace, most employed U.S. adults are not worried that their jobs will become obsolete or unnecessary because of technology. U.S. adults are most concerned that their benefits will be reduced, though worry about that is not high either.

In its annual Work and Education poll, Gallup asked employed Americans to say how worried they are about six different changes at work happening to them. The Aug. 2-6 poll included for the first time a question about losing a job because of technology.

The results, showing that 13% are worried that “in the near future” their job “will become obsolete or unnecessary because of technology,” are consistent with a similar question Gallup asked in May about the likelihood of such an event happening. At that time, 13% of workers said it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that their job would be eliminated in the next five years because of new technology, automation, robots or artificial intelligence.

A report by market research company Forrester estimates robots will replace 6% of jobs in the U.S. by 2021, just four years from now. These jobs include customer service representatives and, eventually, taxi and truck drivers. White-collar jobs that could be replaced include surgeons, anesthesiologists and legal associates. The May Gallup survey found a higher 26% believing that technology would eliminate their job within 20 years.

Of the other five potential job disruptions, having benefits cut (32%) sparks the most worry in U.S. workers, though 68% say they are not worried about that happening in the near future. No more than one in five workers are worried about any of the other possibilities. This is consistent with recent trends on these measures, which include being laid off (19%), having wages reduced (19%), having hours cut back (16%) and having their employers move jobs overseas (9%).

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Worker anxiety on four of these five possibilities was higher between 2009 and 2013 — after the financial crisis, when the U.S. unemployment rate was much higher than it is today. Since then, worry has returned to pre-recession levels. But even during the recession, many more workers generally were not worried than worried about any of these setbacks happening to them.

Bottom Line

The majority of employed U.S. adults say they are not worried about six possible negative job-related events happening to them in the near future. The newest item Gallup introduced to this question — technology making one’s job unnecessary or obsolete — gives the employed public little cause for concern. It is possible that the effects of automation, which are increasingly permeating many aspects of American life, are not apparent to many workers.

These would include self-driving cars, which are not available commercially in any widespread way, and customer service, which is often handled by telephone or on the internet. It is also possible that some Americans displaced by technology have since found jobs in other fields, such as bank tellers replaced by ATMs and grocery store cashiers replaced by self-scanners.

Employed U.S. adults also may be aware of the rapid automation of work but do not believe they will personally be affected, or, if their job is eliminated, they think it will be many years in the future. Regardless, it is not a question of if, but when, and how broad-based these effects will be.


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