Mar 24, 2020 - Technology

Coronavirus-related recession could spike automation

An employee at the Institute of Virology at the Technical University of Munich checks a pipetting robot that prepares samples from people with suspected Covid-19 in a laboratory.
An employee at the Technical University of Munich checks a pipetting robot that prepares samples from people with suspected Covid-19. Photo: Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the rise of the robots, according to a Brookings Institution blog post Tuesday.

Why it matters: A COVID-19-caused recession will likely lead to a spike in automation, meaning some of the jobs lost to the virus will never return as companies restructure their operations to rely more on machines than people.

Details: Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director of Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, says an ongoing trend of companies replacing less-skilled workers with a combination of technology and higher-skilled employees has accelerated under recent downturns. A recession induced by the coronavirus would be no different.

  • Jobs most likely to be affected are those in the food service, manufacturing and transportation/warehousing sectors, with research showing roughly 36 million jobs have a “high” susceptibility to automation.
  • Rust Belt cities — already hit with industrial automation — could face further job loss as automation moves to the service industry.
  • Young workers and Hispanic workers are among those most likely to find their jobs threatened in a recession, because of their overrepresentation in food service, production and construction.
"There’s likely going to be no rest [for] the weary if COVID-19 lingers. Along with a public health crisis and epidemic of illness, the virus may well spur a downturn that brings a new spike of automation and lasting changes to an already evolving ... job market."
— Mark Muro

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