Most new waves of innovation and automation shake up the labor market. Think of how vital telephone operators were in early 20th century and the fact that now just over 11,000 remain in the U.S. Or how jobs for travel agents started to shrivel up after websites like Travelocity and Expedia exploded.
There are, of course, positives to automation, aside from the cost savings for employers. The technology advances that lead to the wide-scale loss of jobs in one field help create the need for workers in a new field or industry—and low-wage, low-skill jobs are often replaced by fewer but higher-wage jobs.
EMSI explored some of these technology-spurred shifts in the labor market in a new analysis.
In a nationwide survey that was part of the analysis, 21% of companies—and 30% of firms with more than 500 employees—said they cut jobs because of automation. But more than two-thirds of the surveyed companies said their adoption of new technology resulted in new positions being added in their firms. For 35% of companies, the job losses from automation ended up getting washed out by a net gain in jobs.
This is the double-edged sword of automation: it often prompts a drawback in jobs, especially in the short term, but it also creates efficiencies that can have long-term benefits to employers and local labor markets.
Which occupations has automation helped or hurt? We broke down a few examples into two big categories:
As we mentioned above, travel agents belong on the negative side of the ledger. About 74,000 travel agents still work in the U.S., but that’s 34% fewer than in 2002—a decline prompted by the rise of travel sites that make it simple to book flights and hotels. Note that median earnings for travel agents are $16.17 per hour.
During the same time, 2002 to 2014, the number of software developers (applications and system software) and web developers in the U.S. increased by 195,000 from 2002 to 2014. These high-skill jobs pay $43 per hour at the median level.
The U.S. has added more than half a million IT jobs during this time (including developer jobs). Also consider the advent of the app economy, a segment of the labor market that didn’t exist a decade ago.
Similar to how technology advances and the recession accelerated the decline of typists and computer operators, data entry keyers is an occupation that has felt the effects of automation. The number of entry keyers dropped to 220,000 in 2014 from 263,000 in 2002, a 16% decline in a field paying $14 per hour. Other entry-level jobs are also easy to automate, as The Wall Street Journal explored using EMSI data.
At the same time, market research analysts—one of the fastest-growing high-wage jobs in America—added more than 99,000 jobs from 2002 to 2014, a 28% increase. Jobs in this field pay $29.18 in median hourly earnings.
What About Outsourcing?
Automation often gets lumped in with outsourcing as twin job killers. The examples we’ve run through show that automation can be a job creator, at least an indirect one. But what about outsourcing? Among the occupations with steepest percentage employment declines, outsourcing is arguably the prime culprit. As the table below shows, textile jobs, the majority now offshore, have taken a beating. More than half of jobs for textile machine setters, operators, and tenders—a combination of several detailed occupations below—have been lost since 2002. That’s just over 100,000 jobs, primarily in the South, gone in a little over a decade.
The table shows all occupations that declined at least 35% nationwide from 2002 to 2014. Notice that only two pay over $20 per hour (brickmasons and fabric and apparel patternmakers) and only one typically requires a college degree (semiconductor processors).
|SOC||Description||2002 Jobs||2014 Jobs||Change||% Change||Median Hourly Earnings||Education Level|
|Source: Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2014.2 Class of Worker|
|51-6063||Textile Knitting and Weaving Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders||56,031||20,749||-35,282||-63%||$12.72||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6061||Textile Bleaching and Dyeing Machine Operators and Tenders||28,272||11,277||-16,995||-60%||$11.82||High school diploma or equivalent|
|49-9095||Manufactured Building and Mobile Home Installers||7,243||3,195||-4,048||-56%||$13.76||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6064||Textile Winding, Twisting, and Drawing Out Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders||61,927||27,718||-34,209||-55%||$12.34||High school diploma or equivalent|
|47-2142||Paperhangers||10,594||4,765||-5,829||-55%||$16.07||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6062||Textile Cutting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders||30,412||15,061||-15,351||-50%||$11.55||High school diploma or equivalent|
|49-9093||Fabric Menders, Except Garment||1,375||718||-657||-48%||$12.80||Less than high school|
|51-6031||Sewing Machine Operators||277,655||148,800||-128,855||-46%||$10.50||Less than high school|
|45-4023||Log Graders and Scalers||5,566||3,159||-2,407||-43%||$15.56||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6092||Fabric and Apparel Patternmakers||11,636||6,607||-5,029||-43%||$21.40||High school diploma or equivalent|
|47-2021||Brickmasons and Blockmasons||122,519||69,822||-52,697||-43%||$22.09||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6041||Shoe and Leather Workers and Repairers||12,400||7,585||-4,815||-39%||$11.61||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6091||Extruding and Forming Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Synthetic and Glass Fibers||29,335||18,031||-11,304||-39%||$15.45||High school diploma or equivalent|
|47-3011||Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||39,533||24,430||-15,103||-38%||$14.34||Less than high school|
|47-2022||Stonemasons||23,623||14,708||-8,915||-38%||$16.96||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-6099||Textile, Apparel, and Furnishings Workers, All Other||22,539||14,239||-8,300||-37%||$13.33||High school diploma or equivalent|
|51-5111||Prepress Technicians and Workers||62,003||39,321||-22,682||-37%||$18.27||Postsecondary non-degree award|
|51-9141||Semiconductor Processors||32,053||20,525||-11,528||-36%||$15.99||Associate's degree|
|51-9031||Cutters and Trimmers, Hand||21,918||14,040||-7,878||-36%||$12.03||Less than high school|
|51-5113||Print Binding and Finishing Workers||78,645||51,084||-27,561||-35%||$14.52||High school diploma or equivalent|
For more on automation and the labor market, read Tyler Cowen’s essay in The New York Times.
For more on EMSI’s employment data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see data for your region, email Josh Wright. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Illustration by Monique Harby.