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The disruption of the future of work in cities: mayors debate

Chuck Burton / AP

The proportion of the population employed in jobs that require low or minimal computer skills has shrunk from more than half in 2002 to just about 30% last year, per a recent Brookings report. (The report indexes who is unemployed in the largest 130 cities and counties in the county, or about 48% of the population in the U.S.)

Today in New Orleans, a panel convened by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and moderated by Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, discussed the issue:

  • That digital divide isn't even: Right now, "black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately employed in places that require less digital skills," according to Liu.
  • Put that in perspective with Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of Policy Link: "by 2044 the majority of people in the country will be people of color...since the summer of 2012 the majority of all babies have been of color" in the U.S.

What to watch for:

  • "Increasing polarization of income," per Chiu.
  • Solutions, which include training existing and new high tech workers in the tech, increasing digital literacy for the most disadvantaged groups, and emphasizing creativity and adaptability, per Liu — and being careful to not create retraining programs that are too narrow. Michael Chui, Partner at McKinsey & Company, McKinsey Global Institute, pointed out that soon in order to maintain some economic growth, "we need all robots working, plus we need all people working."
  • What to avoid: Underestimating the impact of the coming change and not preparing, per Liu.

Other notable points:

  • The future of ride sharing: South Bend's Mayor Peter Buttgieg said during an earlier panel on infrastructure that the "romance" with ride-sharing companies may be over now, so mayors are going to have to weigh the relationship ride-sharing vehicles have with funding infrastructure improvements and mobility. (In short, he juxtaposed whether we tax ride-sharers to make up for tax gains government won't get from the gasoline taxes electric cars might not need to pay? Or will that deter that increased mobility that comes with it?)
  • The future of manufacturing in cities: Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed out during that same infrastructure discussion that "the draw of Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee…was the draw of manufacturing." What employees need now to get jobs, is" actually becoming a computer skills set…it's going to be harder to access…it's not going to be manufacturing."
  • Attaining equity in cities: When mayors lay out new plans for their cities, whether that's about housing or transportation, they must "consciously integrate the needs of people with the needs of place," per Blackwell.