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In August 2020, jobless claims had been approaching 55 million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to a sluggish recovery, it's projected that thousands of jobs are unlikely to ever return. Whether that's because businesses will ultimately shutter (or permanently reduce staff) or industries will be reinvented, there are myriad unknowns when trying to chart projections for the economic future of the U.S. economy. A paper released in May 2020 by the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago projected that 42% of layoffs caused by the pandemic will be permanent.
In addition to fewer jobs being available in certain sectors, other employment sectors as a whole are at risk—and many were at risk long before COVID-19. The technology that makes our jobs easier may soon make some jobs scarce. In 1950, the job of elevator operator was among the 270 careers listed on the United States Census. That job title is now extinct, representing the only known instance of an entire occupation being obliterated by automation in the 50 years that followed. The next half-century may be less forgiving.
Sophisticated software, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and changing trends threaten the livelihoods of everyone from taxi drivers and restaurant servers to computer programmers and librarians. Many economists predict that automation, not outsourcing, will lead to the loss of more than 1.5 million jobs in America’s manufacturing sector. These technical innovations will soon render many longstanding skills and trades obsolete—and the occupational Grim Reaper will discriminate according to class.
Many of the jobs most likely to disappear are among the last well-paying jobs one can get with only a high school diploma. Low-paying, unskilled jobs with low educational entry barriers are most susceptible to automation. These are the jobs that robots will do. Manufacturing will require greater technical skills to operate and program computers. Those who lose their jobs will largely be shut out of the high-paying, highly skilled jobs that remain, many of which will go to specialists tasked with tending to and improving upon the very machines and programs that replaced the human workers.
Here's a look at high-risk careers that will probably wilt over the next 50 years.
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