ATLANTA–Workers in the U.S. moved to unemployment by the COVID-19 pandemic may find themselves displaced by automation during the eventual recovery, according to new research by Georgia State University economists.
About 75 percent of industries at-risk due to COVID-19 closely match those with high potential for automation due to artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computer technologies (ACT).
About 50 percent of the jobs in Georgia are at risk due to AI and ACT, according to research by Peter Bluestone, Emmanual Chike and Sally Wallace, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. The vast majority of those jobs at risk are among relatively low-paid occupations characterized by routine tasks that do not require complex decision-making in Georgia and nationally.
“The COVID-19 public health crisis is exacerbating AI’s structural changes to employment and occupation by increasing the speed of the transition to automation as a result of social distancing measures and concerns regarding the virus’s spread,” said Bluestone, a senior research associate with the school’s Center for State and Local Finance, which published the study. “Education, business, medicine and other industries are finding creative ways to use digital technologies.”
The most vulnerable industries from COVID-19 and the onward march of advanced technologies are accommodation and food services, arts and entertainment, wholesale and retail trade, construction and other services. Dominated by occupations paying relatively low rages and requiring low levels of education, many of these industries already put vulnerable workers at higher risk for economic instability.
In agriculture, on the other hand, less than 10 percent of jobs are at risk due to COVID-19 versus 58 percent at risk from potential automation.
“This difference is understandable in that the virus lockdown cannot stop consumption,” said Bluestone. “Farmers are likely not to stop their production, although problems in logistics and transportation have already begun to impact production there.”
Coronavirus-related job dislocations in firms that were already augmenting and transitioning occupations with advanced technologies will likely accelerate their digital transformation, producing increasing productivity in the long run. In the short-term, the transformation may exacerbate under-employment, as those without sufficient skills find it difficult to compete in the changed labor market when economic activity begins to pick up again.
“Governments, nonprofits and the private sector have an opportunity to support these doubly displaced workers for the long-term,” the brief concludes. “The U.S. government has taken Herculean steps to shoring up the unemployed. Forward, cooperative thinking between states and the federal government could unveil an innovative approach to redesigning skills, up-skilling and retraining while these displaced workers remain eligible for unemployment benefits. This is the time for higher education – colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools – to be harnessed quickly to teach people digital and other tools that will be increasingly in demand as the COVID-19 cloud lifts.”
Download a free copy of the brief, “The Future of Industry and Employment: COVID-19 Effects Exacerbate the March of AI,” at https://cslf.gsu.edu/download/covid-19-ai/?wpdmdl=6496041&refresh=5ea830afd2a471588080815.
Senior Research Associate
Fiscal Research Center
Center for State & Local Finance
Peter Bluestone is a senior research associate with the Fiscal Research Center and Center for State and Local Finance. His research includes urban economics, static and dynamic economic impact modeling, and state and local fiscal policy. His work includes modeling state and local impacts of policy changes and economic development using various economic models, including IMPLAN and Regional Economics Models Incorporated (REMI). Bluestone has served on the technical advisory committee for the Atlanta Regional Commission. He received his doctorate in economics from Georgia State University.
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Sally Wallace serves as dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Dr. Wallace has been a faculty member in the Economics Department since 1991, including five years as department chair. In addition to her teaching and research duties, she has been associate dean for research and strategic initiatives since 2015 and previously served as the director of the Fiscal Research Center. Prior to her academic career, she was a financial economist with the Office of Tax Analysis at the United States Treasury Department.