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Few U.S. Workers Worry About Tech Making Their Job Obsolete

Few U.S. Workers Worry About Tech Making Their Job Obsolete

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 13% of workers are worried about technology eliminating their job
  • U.S. workers are more than twice as likely to worry about losing benefits
  • Worry about each of six job setbacks is generally low

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Amid the steady stream of news about driverless cars, artificial intelligence and robots supplanting humans in the workplace, most employed U.S. adults are not worried that their jobs will become obsolete or unnecessary because of technology. U.S. adults are most concerned that their benefits will be reduced, though worry about that is not high either.

Employed Americans Not Worried About Various Employment Setbacks Happening
Please indicate whether you are worried or not worried about each of the following happening to you, personally, in the near future. How about -- ?
Worried Not worried
% %
That your benefits will be reduced 32 68
That your wages will be reduced 19 81
That you will be laid off 19 81
That your hours at work will be cut back 16 84
That your job will become obsolete or unnecessary because of technology 13 87
That your company will move jobs to countries overseas 9 90
Gallup, Aug. 2-6, 2017

In its annual Work and Education poll, Gallup asked employed Americans to say how worried they are about six different changes at work happening to them. The Aug. 2-6 poll included for the first time a question about losing a job because of technology.

The results, showing that 13% are worried that "in the near future" their job "will become obsolete or unnecessary because of technology," are consistent with a similar question Gallup asked in May about the likelihood of such an event happening. At that time, 13% of workers said it was "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that their job would be eliminated in the next five years because of new technology, automation, robots or artificial intelligence.

A report by market research company Forrester estimates robots will replace 6% of jobs in the U.S. by 2021, just four years from now. These jobs include customer service representatives and, eventually, taxi and truck drivers. White-collar jobs that could be replaced include surgeons, anesthesiologists and legal associates. The May Gallup survey found a higher 26% believing that technology would eliminate their job within 20 years.

Of the other five potential job disruptions, having benefits cut (32%) sparks the most worry in U.S. workers, though 68% say they are not worried about that happening in the near future. No more than one in five workers are worried about any of the other possibilities. This is consistent with recent trends on these measures, which include being laid off (19%), having wages reduced (19%), having hours cut back (16%) and having their employers move jobs overseas (9%).

Worker anxiety on four of these five possibilities was higher between 2009 and 2013 -- after the financial crisis, when the U.S. unemployment rate was much higher than it is today. Since then, worry has returned to pre-recession levels. But even during the recession, many more workers generally were not worried than worried about any of these setbacks happening to them.

Bottom Line

The majority of employed U.S. adults say they are not worried about six possible negative job-related events happening to them in the near future. The newest item Gallup introduced to this question -- technology making one's job unnecessary or obsolete -- gives the employed public little cause for concern. It is possible that the effects of automation, which are increasingly permeating many aspects of American life, are not apparent to many workers.

These would include self-driving cars, which are not available commercially in any widespread way, and customer service, which is often handled by telephone or on the internet. It is also possible that some Americans displaced by technology have since found jobs in other fields, such as bank tellers replaced by ATMs and grocery store cashiers replaced by self-scanners.

Employed U.S. adults also may be aware of the rapid automation of work but do not believe they will personally be affected, or, if their job is eliminated, they think it will be many years in the future. Regardless, it is not a question of if, but when, and how broad-based these effects will be.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 2-6, 2017, with a random sample of 514 employed adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of employed adults, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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