Jobs that might not exist in 50 years
With jobless claims approaching 55 million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and a sluggish recovery, 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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In a 2016 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Steven Greenhouse (labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times from 1995 to 2014) predicted that the rise of automated cars will erase 5 million American jobs. Few are expected to be hit harder than taxi drivers, who face unemployment not only from driverless vehicles, but also from ridesharing apps like Uber. Forbes reported on a study that suggests many cabbies will be forced to join the enemy, and become Uber drivers themselves.
Mail sorter, letter carrier, and clerks
Forbes predicts the positions of mail sorter, letter carrier, and clerk will soon join taxi driver on the ash heap of jobs. In 2010, the combined positions employed 524,300 postal workers. That number is expected to drop in 2020 to 385,500 for a loss of 138,500 jobs—more than a quarter of the workforce.
As early as 2016, the New York Post was already reporting that pilots were likely to find their jobs on the chopping block, thanks to competition from robots. Autopilot features have long supported pilots in the air—in fact, pilots generally assume control of their airplanes only during takeoff and landing. Those two tasks, however, are being taught to their mechanical competitors, and it's likely that both humans and cargo will soon be shuttled around in pilotless planes.
Bill, account collector
Few people will miss hearing from bill collectors and account agents, like the kind who call to bug you when you don't pay up. Love them or not, USA Today offers evidence that the middle-class job is already disappearing, thanks to the rise of software and automation that can perform the same task. Another culprit: the global consolidation of overseas collection agencies.
Surveyors and mapping technicians
Although some specialized positions in the field require advanced education, most surveyors can enter this profession with only a high school diploma. That option, however, will likely soon be off the table as robotics and other technological advancements render their skills obsolete.
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It's bad enough when a robot steals your job, but a flying robot is something different altogether. That is exactly the airborne threat facing parking enforcement officers, once called “meter maids.” Drones can already deliver everything from packages to missiles with pinpoint precision. It's likely that they'll soon be recalibrated to observe parking offenders, and even deliver tickets.
If you live in a modern structure, chances are good that part of your tax bill is dedicated to paying someone to walk through your neighborhood and take readings of the outdoor utility meters. Soon, simple and cheap smart devices that are part of the mass energy storage movement will make that walk—and that job—unnecessary.
Engine and machine assembler
Ever since Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, humans have worked alongside machines assembling sophisticated mechanical components like engines—and the human-to-machine ratio has been falling ever since. That steady drop, however, is quickly turning into an extinction-level event thanks to sophisticated automation and robotics.
Those touting the return of the coal industry might as well be telling unemployed Blockbuster employees that they're going to bring back movie rental stores. According to The New York Times, engineers and coders now dominate the industry, and their skills propel the technology that does most of the actual mining. Even more, coal is a finite resource that is rapidly dwindling as the world embraces cleaner energy sources.
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