Government Should Aid Displaced Workers

March 31, 2018


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one robot in a glass and one robot outside looking in

Anyone following developments in the American workplace over recent years has likely noted the growing level of concern about a “robopocalypse.”

An estimated 50 percent of today’s jobs could be automated by 2055, according to a recent report from McKinsey Global Institute. But you don’t have to look toward the future to see this playing out. We’re already experiencing some of the effects in manufacturing, where approximately 5 million jobs have been lost since 2000.

As these threats grow, a project called GenForward polled millennials to examine their experiences with technology. The survey asked how worried this generation is about job prospects, and whether they believe the government should play a role in supporting displaced workers.

Here were some of its findings (all figures in percentages):

Worries About Holding Down A Job

People of color are particularly worried about their prospects of finding a job in their field as technology progresses.

It is important to note that many millennials first entered the job market during the Great Recession.

“There was a contraction in terms of jobs that were available, and then there are also the narratives about technology,” said Cathy Cohen, the lead investigator for GenForward. “I think they have a real fear of being able to find a job—and not just a job, but a good job that can support them and their families in a kind of moment when in fact we see an explosion of AI and robotics and computers taking jobs away.”

Nearly 16 percent of African-American millennials report being “very concerned”—the highest figure out of all four racial groups.

While report after report on jobs shows a low overall unemployment rate, the unemployment rate among black Americans over the past year is at 7.4 percent—twice as high as the white unemployment rate (3.7 percent).

“There are multiple threats to that from discrimination and racism, but now also technology and kind of the outsourcing of jobs to other parts of the world,” Cohen said.

Meanwhile, white millennials express the least concern about technological advances hurting their  employment prospects, with only 5 percent saying they’re “very concerned.”

What Advances In Technology Will Mean For Jobs Overall

Responses changed a bit when GenForward asked millennials if they feel advances will increase or decrease the total number of jobs in the U.S.

For that prompt, a plurality of respondents across racial and ethnic groups said they believe tech advances will lead to lower employment rates, including 43 percent of white millennials.

Again, African-Americans—51 percent—reported the highest level of concern that jobs would be lost. “I don’t think it’s just about technology, but it’s a pattern that young African-Americans have experienced more broadly,” Cohen said.

Government Intervention

Considering this set of concerns about automation, GenForward asked millennials whether the government should provide assistance to displaced workers. The hypothetical scenario was presented as follows: surveyors asked the group if the government is responsible for taking care of displaced workers, but half were told that would mean a considerable tax hike for the general population.

The overwhelming majority of millennials that was not asked about taxes, regardless of race and ethnicity, answered that they “somewhat agree” that the government has an obligation to take care of workers. And even though enthusiasm dropped when the potential tax increase was mentioned, majorities of millennials across race and ethnicity still supported such a program.

“I think it tells us something important about millennials. One is they are contemplating what we might call the end of work, or at least the restructuring of work, and what would it mean for them to face an economy where in fact there aren’t substantial numbers of jobs that provide them with an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families,” Cohen said.


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