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COVID-19 and Implications for Automation

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The COVID-19 crisis has caused severe economic loss and record unemployment rates. While some sectors will recover quickly, for other sectors, COVID-19 will have long-lasting effects. Specifically, COVID-19 and the threat of future pandemics have the potential to speed the process of automation, as employers replace workers with robots and computers that are unaffected by disease. It is therefore important to identify which occupations are at risk from the increased push to automate jobs in response to pandemics.

We measure an occupation’s potential for automation and COVID-19 transmission risk, including where an overlap of these factors could lead to a push to automate jobs. We identify the labour markets of the United States that may be most affected by such a push. We also examine the demographic groups in the United States and internationally that may be vulnerable to automation due to the transmission risk.

We find that females are about twice as likely as males to be in occupations that are at high risk of both COVID-19 transmission and automation. In particular, occupations with mid to low wages held by females in the United States with mid to low levels of education are at highest risk. We examine monthly employment data from the United States and find that women in high-risk occupations experienced a larger initial decline in employment and a weaker recovery during the pandemic. Using comparable data for 25 other countries, we find that women are also at highest risk internationally.