Robots, Work, and Retirement

If you’re thinking about giving a robot to someone this Christmas, on you’ll find 290,991 choices.  I bought my brother a robot for Christmas last year when he announced that he will be retiring from his job as a computer engineer after 35 years.  Overnight, he went from being a space and missile industry techie to a maintenance guy, gardener, and family caregiver.  Ironically, these are going to be the jobs of the future, according to a report recently released by McKinsey on the future of work:

Jobs in unpredictable environments—occupations such as gardeners, plumbers, or providers of child- and eldercare—will … see less automation by 2030, because they are technically difficult to automate and often command relatively lower wages, which makes automation a less attractive business proposition.

Indeed, according to the report, only 5 percent of today’s jobs can be fully automated – these are the types of jobs that have the highest risk of being eliminated.  But in 60 percent of all jobs, at least one-third of the activities could be automated – that’s key.  It means that most occupations aren’t going away, but there will be a lot of changes in the way the work is done.  Jobs at the high end and the low end will still be around, but a wide range of middle-income occupations will see the largest employment declines.

Given the fast pace of automation, there’s intense concern today that there won’t be enough jobs for workers in the future.  McKinsey writes that history has shown that we may have little to worry about, “Over time, labor markets adjust to changes in demand for workers from technological disruptions …. we could expect that 8 to 9 percent of 2030 labor demand will be in new types of occupations that have not existed before.” editor John Tamny makes a similar point in his upcoming book, The End of Work.  In an interview for PRI’s podcast with Tim Anaya and me, Tamny said, “We’re lucky enough to be in a country where we get to do what we love – we get to make our interest in [public] policy a life choice that pays the bills, this can only be if we have economic growth, low taxes, stable money, and an investment boom that’s created jobs for all sorts of specialties.  I argue for more economic growth, so that more and more people can be as lucky as we are who get to do what doesn’t feel remotely anything like work.”

While Tim might not think that public policy is “work”, he told me he doesn’t like vacuuming.  If anyone out there wants to buy Tim a robotic vacuum cleaner for Christmas, on Amazon, there’s over 1,000 to choose from.  Meantime, my brother is doing the things that he believes provide him more value than staying on as a computer engineer, like building the Brookstone 4-foot Meccanoid G15KS Robot that can supposedly talk to him, dance, and do Kung Fu.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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