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Fear of Being Made Obsolete Grips College-Educated US Workers

White-collar employees now worry about automation nearly as much as counterparts without degrees.

(Bloomberg) — A rising share of US workers are worried technology will make their jobs obsolete, driven almost entirely by growing fears among college-educated employees.

Some 22% of US workers now fear that they could be sidelined by technology, up from 15% two years ago, according to a survey from Gallup.

While the share of non-college-educated workers who express concern has held steady at a little over 20% during that period, the portion of college-educated workers who say they're worried more than doubled, narrowing the gap that previously existed between the groups.

BloombergGallup chart

The release of OpenAI's ChatGPT in November kicked off an AI frenzy and spotlighted the ways in which highly skilled white-collar workers could have their jobs automated. The consulting firm McKinsey estimates that as much as 70% of worker hours worldwide are spent on tasks that could be handled by computers, up from about half a few years ago. Still, Gallup's data shows that fewer than one in four workers believe the threat is imminent.

The latest data from Gallup is based on a survey conducted in August of 491 US adults employed full- or part-time. Respondents were asked whether they were personally worried about being affected in the near future.

Lydia Saad, Gallup's director of US social research, said it's easy to foresee the concerns mounting in the coming years — particularly among the college educated — as the tech continues to improve.

Fears may also climb as AI becomes more fully integrated into workflows, a process that will take time. Another recent Gallup survey found that while only 16% of Fortune 500 HR leaders see AI replacing jobs in their company over the next year, 72% see it sidelining workers over the next three years.

AI has become a central point of tension between striking Hollywood talent and studio executives this summer, as workers seek better pay, job security and protection from AI-driven displacement through union contract negotiations.

While fears about technology have risen, other job-related concerns — like having wages, hours or benefits cut back — have remained relatively stable since 2021, signaling continued confidence in the labor market. 

The share of men and women who report fears of displacement has remained roughly the same, according to Gallup, though a recent report by Revelio Labs found that women hold a disproportionate number of jobs most threatened by AI. Prior surveys have also found a curious effect: Many employees think AI will have a big impact on workers generally — just not on them, personally. 

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