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An automated car production line at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Russia (HMMR) car manufacturing plant in St Petersburg. Photo: Peter Kovalev / TASS via Getty Images

Leading economists are increasingly scaling back the most apocalyptic forecasts of job losses resulting from the new age of automation. In a major report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the research and policy grouping of the world’s richest nations, says 10% of U.S. jobs are at high risk of vanishing to automation — much lower than most prior forecasts.

Why it matters: The benchmark for such scholarship is a landmark 2013 study by two Oxford University economists, who said automation could wipe out 47% of American jobs. So, to the degree the new report is a better reflection of the future, it's good news for American workers. 

But there's still trouble ahead: The OECD economists arrive at a relatively high number of overall jobs at risk — about 38% of American jobs. They say that just 10% will be entirely vaporized, while about 28% will be transformed into new positions requiring a clutch of new skills. 

  • In order for that 28% of workers to keep those jobs, they will need to undergo retraining.
  • A paradox: Workers with the least-automatable jobs are far more willing to undergo training and new formal education than those whose jobs are at risk.
  • "Workers in fully automatable jobs are more than three times less likely to have participated in on-the-job training, over a 12-months period, than workers in non-automatable jobs," the study says.  

A front-page Financial Times article about the study today notes (subscription): "The report shows that worries about 'massive technological unemployment' are to some extent overblown ... Instead the risks are of 'further polarisation of the labour market' between highly paid workers and other jobs that may be 'relatively low paid and not particularly interesting.'"

  • That aligns with remarks last month by David Autor, an MIT economist, who told Axios that people ought to focus less on how many jobs will be wiped out, and more on how much current and future jobs will pay.

Another red flag: Such studies don't have a stellar record for accuracy, says Andrew McAfee, a leading MIT researcher and co-author of "The Second Machine Age," tells Axios: "I am not disparaging this report, but the track record of predicting job growth and job losses is poor."

  • The bottom line: "There will be lots of [job] destruction and lots of creation," McAfee said. "That's what we know from periods of technological change as profound as this one."

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

World leaders react to "new dawn in America" under Biden administration

President Biden reacts delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

World leaders have pledged to work with President Biden on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with many praising his move to begin the formal process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: Several leaders noted the swift shift from former President Trump's "America First" policy to Biden's action to re-engage with the world and rebuild alliances.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with first lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.