It’s no secret that many of the well-paid middle-class jobs enjoyed by ‘Baby Boomers’ don’t exist today. Robotics and computers have replaced them with automation. Automation is becoming a major source of lost jobs in the US economy. Experts only expect the issue to grow. MIT researchers wrote about the trend, “From 1990 to 2007, the study shows, adding one additional robot per 1,000 workers reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by about 0.2 percent, with some areas of the US affected far more than others” (MIT, 2020.)
Researchers also have found that wages tend to be lower when industries add automation. Keep reading with those sobering statistics about unemployment and wage depression in mind. Learn about twenty common Baby Boomer-era middle-class jobs that are days of the past. These jobs are either already entirely replaced by automation or are quickly becoming less necessary for human workers to perform. Do you also want to learn more ways the shift in jobs is affecting people? Check out these reasons why people are leaving big cities.
20. Paralegal Jobs
Paralegals do leg work in legal offices, combing through thousands of papers. They look for details that can make or break legal cases in the hands of lawyers. Paralegals often spend their entire days sifting and reading through documents. They also do a lot of research in legal texts looking for specific codes. Paralegals hope these codes might be helpful and analyze past cases that concerned similar topics or legal factors. There are hundreds of thousands of paralegals in the US. It typically only takes an associate or bachelor’s degree to become one.
Unfortunately for paralegals, it is becoming rapidly apparent that artificial intelligence (AI) can do much of the same work. It can also do it much faster for an overall lower cost. As one article on AI job outlooks warns, “Rather than pay someone thousands of dollars to sift through old files for months on end, AI can analyze it in seconds – providing you with the information you need to compile your case” (Job_Tradition, 2021.) It will be tough for human paralegals to continue to compete against advanced AI. These robots can do complex searches through thousands of documents in minutes. Furthermore, they can also intelligently synthesize it into usable results.
People have long upheld reporters to a high standard of journalistic integrity and freedom. Many reporters even go into dangerous situations to report on human rights abuses, war zones, natural disasters, and more. They bring a human eye and perspective to stories, making them meaningful to consumers worldwide. However, despite the importance of that human touch and eye for angles in a story, the United States journalism industry has removed a fifth of its journalists since 2001 (Job_Tradition, 2021).
Some stories may always need a human reporter to craft the human element of the story meaningfully. However, many standard-issue news items can, and increasingly are, being written by artificial intelligence. As one article on the loss of traditional jobs to AI points out, “The Associated Press, for example, uses AI to write its quarterly earnings reports – as many as 3,000 of them every three months” (Job_Tradition, 2021.) With the ability to use cheap, pre-existing AI to easily write such a large number of news items quickly, it will be hard for human journalists to compete. It takes people a lot more time, energy, and effort to craft stories.
It isn’t news that retail sales at stores are on the decline. These in-person stores cannot compete with the ease, convenience, and low prices of online megastores like Amazon or even Walmart. There’s even a trend of people simply using brick and mortar stores to window shop and see an item in person. They turn around and order it online from a different business at a lower cost. As brick-and-mortar stores continue to struggle and close down, the need for retail workers is diminishing.
As business writer Sophia Bernazzani points out, “Companies are democratizing the shopping experience with features like self-checkout, and the modern buyer is much more internet-savvy and more likely to do internet research and make a buying decision on their own” (Hubspot, 2019.) This evolution of retail sales is leaving even trained sales workers out in the cold. That is, unless they’re willing to take the remaining low-paying cashier jobs. Even most of these may already be replaced by self-checkout kiosks. Some of the only sales jobs remaining are merchandisers.
An IT support worker’s role was so ubiquitous it was even the source of an entire sitcom with England’s The IT Crowd, which featured the misadventures of corporate IT support workers. AI is increasingly serving these roles through automated help tutorials, automated tech help chat functions, and more. More complicated IT problems will always require computer literate workers to solve. However, the most basic issues of computer illiteracy can often be solved through AI-driven responses.
In a grim prediction, business writer Sophia Barnazzani warned, “The field is projected to grow 12% by 2024, but with so much content on the internet with instructions, step-by-step guides, and hacks out there, it’s no surprise companies will rely more heavily on bots and automation to answer support questions from employees and customers in the future” (Hubspot, 2019.) As more Boomers leave the workforce for retirement, the tech-savvy Millennials and digital native Zoomers will likely have far less need for routine IT support. That could relegate the field to the work of Google searches and interactive help desks.
In the days of the robust Boomer-era economy, it was commonplace for virtually every business big or small to employ at least a part-time bookkeeper to manage the finances, track inventory and sales, and more. The bookkeeper was a common and valued position for many women, especially older women with good math skills. However, as businesses have continued to consolidate and grow, with the mom and pop shop becoming a relic of the past, the functions required of a bookkeeper are vastly outpacing what a human can do just writing in a ledger.
We live in an age of readily available software like Quickbooks, Xero, Plooto, and more. It’s much easier and more economical now for a business to have a manager who can also be a bookkeeper. This person can use such financial software in a fraction of the time it would take an old-fashioned bookkeeper. The grim reality for bookkeepers is that “most bookkeeping is becoming automated if it hasn’t been already. QuickBooks, FreshBooks, and Microsoft Office already offer software that does the bookkeeping for you that’s much more affordable than a person’s salary, so it’s no surprise this job has such a high probability” (Hubspot, 2019).
Proofreaders have long been a staple of many industries including publishing, journalism, and print advertising. They are incredibly detail-oriented professionals with an eye for catching the smallest grammatical errors. These specialized writers also have a keen sense of tone, subtext, and more within the written word. Proofreader was once a much-desired position to get a foot in the door at publishing agencies. Unfortunately, the need for human proofreaders is rapidly diminishing with the growth of advanced proofreading programs like Grammarly that can detect subtle, contextual errors in text.
As one business writer ominously pointed out, “Proofreading software is everywhere” (Hubspot, 2019). Not only are such programs ubiquitous, but they’re also becoming cheaper, putting them in reach of students for reviewing their term papers. Many proofreading software programs have free versions which catch the most basic errors, with paid versions including access to contextual errors, complex grammar structures, and more. Much like paralegals, it simply doesn’t require a human eye to evaluate and synthesize data in the age of advanced and inexpensive AI software.
Benefits managers are in a difficult position. Many small businesses don’t have enough employees to justify a benefits manager. That’s especially true since many aren’t able to offer a comprehensive benefits package to employees anyway. For large employers, especially those with locations in more than one state or country, it’s far easier to use an automated HR and benefits program. Workday or Ultipro manages all employee records, enrolls employees in extras, and tracks compensation history. While there is still some advantage to an on-site person who can manage benefits, many companies are going digital.
As one business analyst points out, “a human and paper-based system can present more hurdles, time delays, and costs. Automated benefits systems can save time and effort for providing benefits to large numbers of employees” (Hubspot, 2019). Benefits managers will likely continue to find jobs in mid-sized businesses, especially those that only operate within one state or country. However, larger companies will likely continue digitizing and moving away from human benefits managers, which will remove many of the best-paying benefits management jobs on HR teams. Changes in the political landscape that may eventually remove private insurance will also massively hasten the removal of benefits managers in the United States.
The plight of the US factory worker has been lamented for several decades. Factory work used to be enough for one person (usually a man) to support an entire family with a house, a vehicle, and even a vacation. Cities like Detroit and Flint, Michigan, flourished as people flocked for well-paying, unionized factory jobs. Factory work was once seen as an absolute staple of the working and middle class. Forepersons and supervisors made excellent wages in particular. However, we all know that this is a relic of the past. Factory workers do not receive the best pay. That is if they can even find work at all.
Between the advent of robots in manufacturing and the outsourcing of skilled labor jobs, the US factory job has stopped being a ticket into the middle class. As a recent business article stated, “Assembly and industrial robots controlled by computers can assemble cars and other products, and were in use since the late 1950s. Today, almost all large manufacturing jobs use robots to make millions of different products efficiently and at a low cost” (ComputerHope, 2020). As part of such a long historical trend, it’s doubtful that these jobs will come back.
Even many Millennials will likely remember that it was once impossible to make an appointment or schedule any event without having to speak to an actual human being. Doctor’s appointments, tickets for an amusement park, and many others required calling and talking to a human receptionist. This likely sounds absurd to younger people who are used to online scheduling systems and may never have actually spoken to a real-life receptionist over the phone, and perhaps even then only for medical appointments.
The internet drastically changed many elements of life. It has also shifted the receptionist’s role in an area that has seen some of the most change. While receptionists used to be the first contact point for almost any business, most now use an automated answering service with a numeric menu to route callers without ever needing human operation. As one business analysts point out, “Automated phone and scheduling systems can replace a lot of the traditional receptionist role — especially at modern technology companies that don’t have office-wide phone systems or multinational corporations” (Hubspot, 2019).
It’s unlikely that anyone will lament the loss of this particular position, as many of us continue to experience annoying telemarketing calls. However, like it or not, call centers used to provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in various industries throughout the country. Political telemarketing, although more tightly regulated and sometimes volunteer-based, provided jobs during election years. Robocalls are quite tightly controlled. Nevertheless, legally, they have replaced telemarketing from actual human beings.
While humans thrive and succeed at many of the jobs on this list and will be sadly left behind due to automation, telemarketing is an interesting example where people aren’t very good. Historically, telemarketing jobs have required no real training or skillset, and it turns out, “Conversion rates for direct telephone sales are typically less than 10%, making this role a ripe opportunity to be automated” (Hubsot, 2019). With success rates that low, it should come as no surprise that telemarketing is being relegated to robocalls.
Becoming a commercial pilot is an exhausting process that requires a college diploma, extensive training, apprenticeship, licensure, and more. Therefore, pilots tend to be highly paid employees, which drives up the cost of routine flights like cargo shipments due to the costs. While some forms of flying like crop dusting require less training, it isn’t legal to fly jets with that training level. So it’s no surprise that to cut costs, many cargo operations are looking to advance AI to autopilot planes that can be simply assisted from a human pilot on the ground in case of emergency.
The military is already leading the way in pilotless aircraft. As one business analyst points out, “The United States Military is already using autonomous drones that conduct surveillance and even attack without the assistance of humans. As these drones become more advanced and capable, they’re going to adapt to other fields” (Computer Hope, 2020). The military often leads the way in advances like computing and the internet. Thus, it’s quite likely military technology for a pilotless flight will also begin to creep into the industry soon to make cargo flights less costly and keep costs down for consumers.
A very common entry-level job in the US Postal Service used to be mail sorters. Candidates must take the entry-level Postal Exam 473 in order to test speed and accuracy. Both factors were invaluable for mail sorters who needed to sort mail quickly. Of course, with any job performed by humans that requires speed and accuracy, errors are bound to occur. With this in mind, it’s no surprise the US Postal Service is rapidly moving its mail operations to automated sorting.
USPS mail sorting is becoming so advanced you can now even get emails with scans of your mail before they arrive in your mailbox. Unfortunately, this advanced technology has come at a cost to human workers, and researchers have found that when automation takes place, “The burden falls on the low-skill and especially middle-skill workers” (MIT, 2020). The move to automated sorting has eliminated many well-paying unionized postal service jobs. While we have gained some speed and accuracy, many middle-class jobs have been lost. Society will have to reckon with the human cost of automation.
The job of a film projectionist in movie theatres likely sounds absurd to those raised on Netflix and Hulu. It was once a decently paying full-time job. Unfortunately, as one tech analyst points out, “Today’s projectors are digital and usually run automatically or minimally controlled by any of the employees who are already working on other jobs in the theater” (Computer Hope, 2020). What was once a honed skill is now unnecessary.
Film projectionists were never a huge part of the US workforce. However, they are a great example of how changing technology can make an entire role that was once skilled and respected obsolete overnight. Even non-technical theatre jobs are threatened in today’s era of instant-access films and online streaming services. That is especially true now that many do simultaneous theatre and streaming releases. Film projectionist is also a job with no equivalent in another industry. Thus, unemployed film projectors likely had to be entirely retrained in a new skill area, a burden to both society and the workers.
Many people think of typists mostly as stenographers, who sit in courtrooms and take down testimony and legal proceedings in shorthand. However, typists used to be widespread beyond that. They were among the few corporate jobs that women routinely held. Many corporate departments and often even single high-level employees had typists. They would to turn verbal instructions into typed memorandums, letters, and more. Men could, of course, have typed for themselves. Nevertheless, it was seen as a feminine role in the workplace and done by underlings.
As Computer Hope noted, “Before computers, there were hundreds of secretaries and typists whose jobs were to type letters and other documents. Today, the computer has made these jobs obsolete and, with the improvements in voice recognition capabilities, computers are now also able to type for you as you talk.” So now, even old-fashioned business executives who like to dictate while pacing around their office like Don Draper can dictate to a computer. The computer translates their spoken words into word-processed documents ready for printing. The need for professional typists is long gone.
Young people may find this hard to believe, but travel agencies were once flourishing businesses in which agents planned your entire trip for you. These agents would do it all; book hotels, buy airline tickets, and arrange entertainment. People would simply give travel agents a location, some dates, and the kinds of activities they enjoy. In turn, the travel agent would do all of the legwork of designing and booking the entire trip. Various hotels, airlines, and destinations typically paid travel agents commission for booking with them. These companies encouraged at least some up-selling on behalf of the destination’s finest venues.
Now, of course, it’s almost unthinkable to employ a travel agent. We have easy booking sites right at our fingertips. People can read reviews for destinations and figure out what works for them. As one business analyst summarized it, “Today, with the Internet and computers, you can do this yourself without needing a travel agent.” Sure, it is more work to book an entire vacation yourself. Nevertheless, it also gives you the freedom to make price comparisons, negotiate directly with hotels, and more. Planning your own vacation allows you to save money. Who doesn’t want to get more bang for your buck? Travel agencies are almost extinct.
Pharmacies will likely always require a human pharmacist present. That is especially true for opiates or ADHD stimulants. However, automation is replacing many of the roles of pharmacy assistants rapidly. One of pharmacy assistants’ major duties is to fill prescription bottles. Of course, they need to have the correct number and type of pills for customers. Machines can do this more quickly, efficiently, and accurately. Pharmacy assistants also provide customer service, but that can easily be replaced by self-serve kiosks and online customer service.
Robotic pharmacy assistants have many benefits. Computer Hope pointed out, “These robots help prevent mistakes, and because they only require a small space for robotic arms, they can also occupy a much smaller footprint than their human counterparts.” With the rise of pharmacies inside grocery stores and chain stores like Target, the ability to run the pharmacy department in a smaller place frees up valuable space, a massive advantage for any retail business. The increased accuracy could also save a considerable amount of money in miscounted pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, in the case of mistakes, it can literally save lives.
Forklift operator positions were once highly-desired warehouse positions. The required certification meant higher pay than other warehouse positions that required no certification or training. Forklift operators are typically responsible for moving large pallets of goods between warehouses or work areas. Forklift operators need to know how to operate the machine and safety information. They need to know about turning radius and forklift blind spots to keep warehouse workers safe while moving out on the floor.
However, many corporations like Amazon are continually looking for ways to automate systems to reduce human error as well as drive down labor costs. As one business analyst illustrates, Amazon has already automated many of its warehouse functions, saying that, “Robots controlled by computers are replacing jobs that involve packing or moving of goods. An example is the Amazon robots that move all products to people who package and mail the products to customers” (Computer Hope, 2020). Not only does this save on human body toil from lifting and moving, but it reduces error and speeds up processes.
Another principal warehouse position at many factories was the packer, who packed goods for transport. For direct sales companies, this would mean picking a customer’s orders and then safely packaging them for shipment via mail or cargo delivery. The job requires ood hand-eye coordination and a good understanding of spatial dimensions. Also, it helps to have the ability to work quickly and accurately. That isn’t always a standard set of skills. Therefore, many mega corporations are looking to robotic packers for the future.
Installing robots in workplaces has a genuine human cost. Researchers at MIT found that “each robot replaces about 6.6 jobs locally…[and] adding one robot replaces 3.3 jobs for the country as a whole” (MIT, 2020). That doesn’t seem like much at first. However, consider corporations like Amazon that hire thousands of packers installing robots to replace those workers. It could lead to a tremendous amount of unemployment. A major issue going forward will be what to do with those workers.
Of all the jobs on this list that require absolute accuracy, one of the most is bank teller. There is quite literally no room for error in bank tellers’ work. One missed comma or slipped decimal place can cost banks thousands and lead to irate customers. Banks are also subject to intense federal oversight, so mistakes can have legal consequences as well. With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that some banks are turning to automated services for basic banking transactions to ensure 100% accuracy at all times.
One business analyst predicts that banks will become one of the most heavily automated industries in the next decade. The expert says, “Automation saw the invention of the ATM, smartphone apps, online banking, and the closure of many branches, and it’s now looking to squeeze out the last remaining hangers-on. In the next five years, there are predictions that AI will be able to organize every part of your loan and handle up to 90 percent of banking-related matters (Job_Tradition, 2021). It is already possible to process the vast majority of a mortgage request or other loan application without ever interacting with a human being, so it does seem plausible.
Self-checkout kiosks are often a lightning rod for disagreement and conflict within communities. Many younger people often see them as a convenience. Older people often wonder why they should have to do the business’ job for free. They lament the lost jobs, especially to automation. Whichever side you’re on, it’s no secret that self-checkout kiosks rapidly replace cashiers. Just take a look at grocery stores and major chain stores. Sometimes it’s almost difficult to find a real, live cashier at all.
Thankfully, self-checkout kiosks don’t entirely remove the need for human employees. Someone needs to monitor checkout areas for broken machinery, user error, and potential shoplifting. It is a significant source of revenue loss after the switch to self-checkout kiosks. As one business analyst points out, “Self-checkout lines are already found in most grocery stores today. Although these computers are still watched by one human, that one person is doing the job for what used to require several people” (Job_Tradition, 2021). So, it’s not all doom and gloom for cashier jobs, but they are fewer and further between.