How Many Jobs Will Be Lost to Automation?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “universal basic income,” in which everyone was assured a basic welfare payment from the government to provide to help cover bare essentials. The origins of the idea don’t appear to be founded in the Robin Hood mentality of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but rather, it was suggested as insurance to help a growing number of people who will lose their job to automation.

Self-driving cars are one form of automation that stand to threaten several jobs throughout the United States. While it may be harder for us to grasp in the sparsely populated Dakotas, self-driving cars are undoubtedly the wave of the future. Simply ask big city dwellers of their importance. It isn’t fantastical for them, but rather a desperately needed technology to cut down on commute times and accidents. Those living in large population centers want to desperately adopt this technology, which will only fuel its development and implementation.

Self-driving cars may further hurt the taxi cab industry. As of 2012, there were an estimated 233,900 taxi cab drivers in the U.S. At that time, the number of drivers was estimated to grow by 16% over the next 10 years. Clearly, Uber and Lyft has sucker punched the industry and those projections, allowing even you and me to be hired drivers in our free time if we so desired. Self-driving cars will likely destroy the need for the remaining taxi cab jobs in existence, leaving traditional cab drivers as a small niche industry filling in for automated cars in small, unusual circumstances.

A much greater impact to the economy may come from automation in the trucking industry. There are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S., and the median annual salary for a truck driver is $40,000. Self-driving trucks would lead to large cost reductions by not having to pay truckers, and it reduces the need to monitor regulations, such as making sure a driver is getting enough rest.

Whether or not airliners will become fully automated is challenging to say. There are far less commercial pilots than taxi drivers and truck drivers, but they are paid very well. There is an estimated 119,200 pilots employed in the U.S. with a median salary of $102,520. But are we ready to fly in pilotless aircraft?

Automation may not be all bad though. A college student has allegedly created the first equivalent of an automated lawyer, and it is being called “lawyer-bot.” With the median salary of a lawyer at $115,820, an estimated 778,700 lawyers may be out of work. While I’m sure not every lawyer will be replaced with a robot, it is still hard to imagine practicing law with a real person would become a niche industry, like the rarely needed taxi cab driver. Then again, lawyers are pretty good at finding work for themselves, so this may not impact their livelihood that much.