Survey: Most Workers Fear Automation, Robots

29 Aug, 2019 Chriss Swaney


Sarasota, FL ( - Carlow University’s William S. Schweers is not surprised that U.S. workers argue that automation and robots are more likely to harm their jobs.

When it comes to workplace automation that has already occurred, a recent Pew Research survey found that Americans claim it has hurt U.S. workers more than it has helped them.

The survey found that nearly half of U.S. adults (48 percent) say job automation through technology in the workplace has mostly hurt American workers while just 22 percent say it has generally helped. About three-in-ten (28 percent) say these advances have neither helped nor hurt U.S. workers.

The survey also found that three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) say inequality between the rich and the poor would increase if robots and computers performed most of the jobs currently being done by humans by 2050.

“You can’t tax a robot; so the country will be losing payroll taxes with automation,’’ said Schweers, an assistant professor of political science at Carlow University.

Schweers also points out that the U.S. government has no strategy for handling workers displaced by automation and robots. “The nature of work has been changing for some time now and only half of U.S. CEOs are looking at how technology is impacting employee jobs,’’ he added.  

Global competition, particularly in manufacturing, has changed the nature of the work opportunity for millions of Americans. Takeovers and the threat of takeovers have reduced jobs for additional millions. Restructuring, overhead reduction, just-in-time production, higher quality products with longer lives, computers and robots – these trends are all reducing labor costs and eliminating jobs.

The survey results show that Americans think automation will likely disrupt a number of professions. Seventy-seven percent said it was very or somewhat likely that fast food workers would be replaced by robots or computers in their lifetimes, while about two-thirds (65 percent) said the same about insurance claims processors. Around half said automation would replace the jobs of software engineers and legal clerks, while smaller shares said it would affect construction workers, teachers or nurses.

Young adults and part-time workers are especially likely to have been personally affected by workforce automation. Thirteen percent of those aged 18 to 24 had either lost a job or had pay or hours reduced because their employers replaced their job with a machine, robot or computer program. That compares with slightly smaller shares of those aged 30 or older. Those employed part time were also slightly more likely that those employed full time (11 percent vs. 5 percent) to cite these personal impacts from automation. And nearly six –in- 10 Americans said that there should be limits on the number of jobs that businesses can replace with machines, even if those machines are better and cheaper, according to the survey.

Experts report that there are many examples throughout history where workers have been displaced. The analogy of the buggy whip industry being wiped out by the advent of the automobile may be over –used. But the Pew survey can be thought of like the modern day analogy of the canary in the coal mine because automation continues to create worker inequality, some say.

Half of U.S. adults said in the survey that in the event that robots and computers are capable of doing human jobs, it is the government’s obligation to take care of displaced workers, even it means raising taxes substantially. A nearly identical share (49 percent) said that obligation should fall on the individual, even if machines have already taken many human jobs. Research shows that automation is expected to impact 25 percent of U.S. jobs in this decade.


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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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