Prosperity Watch Issue 58, No. 2: The future of work is already here

February 9, 2016

This week, the Institute for Emerging Issues is hosting a discussion of FutureWork: how automation and rapid technological development is changing how we work, for whom we work, and how our work is rewarded. The role of public policy in ensuring that such a transformation delivers the greatest opportunity and benefits to the most North Carolinians must be central if our state hopes to continue to thrive and compete. 

Absent policy responses, researchers at North Carolina State University have analyzed the vulnerability of North Carolina counties to automation and technological unemployment. This Disruption Index takes anticipated wage losses, education attainment levels, the ratio of non-working age to working age populations, and the diversity of the region into account.

The assumptions should be considered problematic in their suggestion that communities with younger and older residents and more non-White North Carolinians are more vulnerable, given that research has also shown the economic benefits to closing barriers to equal opportunity in North Carolina. The current day reality, however, is that we have not removed barriers for all North Carolinians to participate in the economy, nor have we sufficiently built the structures in every community that support economic mobility for children.

The Disruption Index maps onto current day measures of high poverty and low job openings per jobless workers, showing that vulnerability today could continue into the future without a targeted response from North Carolina policymakers. The map below shows that those counties most vulnerable to disruption from increased automation are in the Eastern and Mountain regions of the state.

In order for our policies to help lay the foundation in every community to prepare and innovate in the face of rapid employment change, lawmakers must consider the interests of the community and worker alongside the employer. Without efforts to grow wages, provide adequate protections in the face of more frequent job loss, and ensure that career pathways are accessible, the future of work seems like it will result in the same economic outcomes in communities across the state today.

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