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A bleak future for America's cashiers

Richard Drew / AP

Around 3.5 million Americans are employed as cashiers, representing more than 2.5 percent of the workforce. But those jobs are at risk as more and more retailers experiment with automation. LinkedIn Managing Editor Chip Cutter today sounded the alarm, pointing out the country's lack of preparedness for such massive economic dislocation:

"While it's not a high-paying job (the median hourly pay for cashiers nationally is $9.70 per hour), it's an accessible one. People of all ages, skill levels and educational backgrounds can get hired to do the work, often without multiple interviews or even a drug test," Cutter said. "And unlike some occupations, cashier positions can be found across the U.S., not clustered in big cities or on the coasts.In other words, cashiers are everywhere today. But they may soon be nowhere. Are cashiers ready for that? Is the economy?"

Flashback: Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Axios that humans losing jobs to artificial intelligence applications is "not even on our radar screen."

Counterpoint: Cashier jobs are sometimes compared to bank teller jobs, which have largely leveled off and even climbed in some places after a major culling in the decade following widespread adoption of automated teller machines. The argument goes that ATMs made bank branches cheaper to operate, which led banks to open more branches that still required tellers (albeit fewer than in the past).