Where robots are replacing the most workers

The robot revolution and eventual destruction of mankind won’t fully kick into gear until the AI becomes self-aware, but that doesn’t mean that some of the robots aren’t already wreaking havoc on their masters. The rate that automation and the elimination of jobs for flesh-and-blood workers in favor of machines has been ramping up for the past decade. But who are the biggest losers in this mechanical arms race and where do they tend to be located.?

According to a new report published by the Century Foundation, the overall loss of jobs to automation and robotics hasn’t been that significant across the country as a whole. But in certain industries and specific locations, it’s been much greater than others. (Government Executive)

“There have been clear losers with increased automation—namely, younger, less-educated manufacturing workers in the Midwest and younger, minority workers in these industries in particular,” says coauthor William Rodgers, a professor of public policy at Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

“These industries not only have the highest number of robots in use, but are also experiencing the fastest growth in robot adoption.”

There are a couple of cautionary notes to keep in mind when reading through this study. One of the bigger ones is the definition they use for what counts as a robot. The study’s authors are talking about industrial robots, which they define as, “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which can be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.”

That means that they’re not counting things like kiosks, so job losses in the foodservice industry and other customer-facing tasks aren’t included. And as we’ve discussed here before, food service jobs are probably going to be wiped out rather quickly.

The other factor to consider is included in the executive summary. The job loss numbers they are reporting are actually lower than they would have been had we not been experiencing a robust recovery from the great recession over the past few years. The addition of all those jobs across all fields of work has done much to “mask” the jobs lost to robotics.

So they’re talking about actual robots that manipulate objects and perform physical tasks. As you might expect, they found the largest job losses in the lower-skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector. But most low-skill jobs have been feeling the impact. Workers on assembly lines and warehouses are feeling the pinch.

As to the physical locations, the top of the list for so-called “robot intensity” (the number of manufacturing robots in use) is held by the greater Los Angles area, followed by Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. Somewhat surprisingly, you have to go all the way down to number five on the list before you hit Detroit and Milwaukee. The auto industry was one of the first to really embrace robots on the manufacturing line, so I’d have thought they would be up higher.

The study also delves into demographics and there aren’t that many surprises. They found that young, male workers, particularly among minorities, have seen the most job losses. But that’s also the group most likely to have no more than a high school education, so they tend to be found in jobs that a robot can do. Robots really aren’t replacing people in most of the STEM discipline careers… at least not yet.

But don’t get too hopeful based on the seemingly low job loss numbers in this report. It’s only a matter of time. The robots will keep getting more nimble, more clever and smarter. Before too long they’ll be doing all sorts of jobs we can’t imagine today. That’s probably when they’ll realize they don’t really need us anymore. And we all know what happens after that.