At the 2023 WCRI Annual Conference, internationally recognized MIT Economist David Autor opened the event talking about globalization and automation and their impact on jobs, the nature of work, and state workers’ compensation systems.
Where will the future of work come from?
People always want more “stuff.” The more people earn, the more they spend. This drives them to want to earn more so they can buy more.
Better tools allow people to do their job better with less effort and more focus on their expertise.
3. The Invention of New Work
In the 1800s, 55% of all jobs were in farming. Now farming is 2% of all jobs. Farming is still being done even though automation has made the task less labor-intensive. However, as the economy has grown, new jobs have been created. Every year the US Census captures new job titles that did not exist before. This is not necessarily because of new technology. Jobs such as Conference Planners or Personal Trainers didn’t exist before, but they came into being because of the demands of an expanding economy. New jobs tend to require a level of expertise, which leads to better pay. About 60% of the jobs being done today did not exist in 1940.
Since 1980, the US economy has seen job growth in higher skill/pay positions and lower skill/pay positions. However, the jobs in the middle, such as skilled laborers, manufacturing, and administration, have shrunk, creating a more significant wage disparity between higher earners and everyone else.
Impact of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has reached the level where computers know more than we know. The question is, will AI complement or commodify human expertise? The promise of AI is that it could enable less expert workers to perform more expert tasks. The peril of AI is that it could commodify expertise by making it less valuable.
Older workers are working longer than ever before. Labor force participation for adults over age 65 keeps climbing, driven in part by the lack of skilled employees in the workforce. This trend is expected to continue. This trend toward an aging workforce could have an adverse impact on workers’ compensation as historically older workers have more co-morbid factors and recover slower.
How Did COVID Change the Workforce
The obvious answer here is the significant increase in people working from home. This has created shifts away from larger cities where the jobs were located to suburbs and smaller communities. Service workers in the cities no longer have the customer base they had before which is adversely impacting many small businesses in those areas.
The other big change is the norms around telemedicine, which has become significantly more mainstream after the pandemic.