AI Hasn’t Ushered in the Job-pocalypse Yet
(Bloomberg) -- The headline numbers from last month's U.S. jobs report were good: 201,000 jobs added, unemployment under 4 percent and long-stagnant wages up a bit more than expected.
For the time being, at least, American workers are being spared the much-feared job losses from automation. In fact, the fastest-growing category from the federal report was the decidedly not-techie job title, "support activities for mining," which climbed 1.8 percent. Under President Donald Trump, the data suggests, red states far from coastal tech hubs have been growing the most, reversing the trend under President Barack Obama (though the success is likely an outgrowth of Obama-era policies). Even manufacturing has been doing pretty well.
In a recent meeting, I asked the chief executive officer of ZipRecruiter, Ian Siegel, about the ever-looming specter of techno job destruction. ZipRecruiter is a jobs board and online employment marketplace (though you may know it from its prolific podcast ad campaigns). Siegel said he's been tracking this for a while, and tech-driven job losses are indeed showing up in the numbers but not always where you might think.
Here's a sample of job listings that have dropped off the most on ZipRecruiter's site last year, according to data shared with Bloomberg:
- Administrative assistant receptionist: down 70 percent
- Data entry clerk: down 56 percent
- Retail sales consultant: down 63 percent
Of course, this is an informal metric and won't be an accurate representation for the economy as a whole. (For that, take a look at the broader government data.) But it's still instructive because the site is a major hub for job seekers.
One takeaway from the data is that it has become very, very hard to get a job as a receptionist—a development that's directly related to technology. "If you think about it, this is the predictable outcome of the PC revolution, which really took off in the business sector in the 1990s with the advent of Microsoft Office," Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, wrote in an email. "Suddenly, workers could, and were expected to, handle their own admin tasks."
The forces of digitization are similarly weighing on data entry positions. And the woes of brick-and-mortar stores have lessened the need for jobs like "retail sales consultant."
But it's not all bad news, either. Though retail hiring may be feeling the pressure, warehouse and fulfillment job listings doubled last month from a year ago, driven by online shopping, Pollak said. Tech has also created plenty of new jobs (see: drone delivery operations). On ZipRecruiter, listings related to autonomous and flying cars jumped 250 percent in the second quarter.
What about tech workers themselves? As a whole, the tech industry hasn't had as grand of an impact on the economy as you might expect, given its revenue. "While the tech industry is growing, it remains relatively small in the scheme of things as job growth drivers go," said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. It doesn't take that many software developers, after all, to build a product that turns a big profit.
But Muro thinks technology is still in the process of remaking other sectors. "We're at the shallow end of the pool of the whole digital revolution," he said. "Most of the economy is really not fully adopting these technologies yet." In the near term, he said, digitization might actually help fields like manufacturing.
Technology right now is still “creating new job categories,” Muro said. As for destroying job categories? “It’s going to take longer than people think.”
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