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Automation Will Impact Small Metros More Than Big Cities

Topics: Data & Research
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Technology has affected the job market since the time of the Industrial Revolution. In the long run, technological progress has been good for the economy and the job market — so far. However, Oxford University researchers predict that up to 47 percent of American jobs are vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years. Jobs that involve repetitive tasks and don’t require a great deal of creativity or social intelligence will be most at risk.

So, what you do will be important, when it comes to surviving the automation wave. But new research suggests that where you live will also matter. The study, which was discussed in a recent article in New Scientist, found that workers living in smaller cities and towns should expect a bigger impact from automation than those living in larger cities. Specifically, cities with fewer than 100,000 people were found to be especially vulnerable to job loss.

Why Towns and Cities Are Likely to Be Hardest Hit:

Iyad Rahwan and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab discovered that smaller metro areas (cities with fewer than 100,000 residents) are more at risk. This is because jobs in these areas tend to be the types that are more vulnerable to automation. Cities with larger populations are more often able to support a higher percentage of specialist jobs, which are often safe.

Researchers believe that these findings will likely apply to Europe as well as the U.S. This further supports the notion that megacities will grow, and that they’ll become increasingly important in the years to come.

“Larger cities attract resources, skills, and expertise,” Lesley Giles of the Work Foundation in London told New Scientist, “and this creates a virtuous cycle of improvement and growth.”

Larger cities in other parts of the world may not experience quite the same effect though, according to the study. The impact could be quite different in China, for example, where cities often focus on just one product. These cities would be especially vulnerable to automation even though they have large populations.

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There Will Be Exceptions In the U.S., Too

Not all U.S. cities are expected to follow the trend. There will be exceptions in areas where the job market operates a little differently. For example, Las Vegas, Nevada is a relatively large city with a population of around 600,000. But, because so much of their economy is dependent on the gambling industry, which is vulnerable to automation, this city is more at risk that its size might suggest.

Researchers also noted that Boulder, Colorado may be another exception to the rule. Although it is a small city with just around 100,000 residents, it’s also a “center of innovation” and therefore likely to fare pretty well.

What This Means For Workers:

Knowledge really is power. Being able to anticipate these shifts should help workers be a little more prepared. It might make sense to consider training to work in a less vulnerable industry, given these trends. Some workers might also consider relocating to an area where the job market is expected to thrive – most likely a large city.

“For us to survive the tidal wave of automation we need to be able to do more creative work and combine our skills with others in a creative way,” Rahwan told New Scientist. “Maybe the metropolis is the answer to our fears.”

Tell Us What You Think

How do you expect automation to impact the job market in your area? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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