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NextGen Magazine


White-Collar Jobs Are Disappearing

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
May 16, 2023


Thousands of white-collar jobs have disappeared and many more will do so soon, never to return, The Wall Street Journal reported.

As white-collar workers have been laid off in recent months due to overhiring and rising interest rates, those jobs are being reevaluated. Millions of them will be eliminated, reduced or overhauled, in part through the use of artificial intelligence, according to the Journal.  

“We may be at the peak of the need for knowledge workers,” Atif Rafiq, a former chief digital officer at McDonald’s and Volvo, told the Journal. “We just need fewer people to do the same thing.”

Already, many manufacturing jobs that can be automated have been performed by robots. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) can assume certain tasks in fields such as accounting, software programming, human resources and law. New technologies may also replace humans at companies such as Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, and IBM. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has said in recent weeks that 30 percent of the company’s roughly 26,000 non-customer-facing roles could be being replaced by automation or AI over a five-year period.

The number of unemployed white-collar workers rose by roughly 150,000 for the year ended in March, nonpartisan research group Employ America found. That included workers in professional services, management, computer occupations, engineering and science.

“I can’t think of any job where it’s like AI by itself,” Rodney McMullen, chief executive of grocery chain Kroger, which has about 430,000 employees, told the Journal. “I can think of a lot of jobs that are being affected by AI.”

Some company leaders say that inflated managerial ranks are inefficient and slow decision-making. Some economists interviewed by the Journal said that the current environment is different from the past, when job losses were often most prevalent in industries most sensitive to rate changes, such as manufacturing and construction. “It seems like we’re not seeing that right now. It could be the structure of the economy has changed,” said Employ America economist Preston Mui.

Companies are focused on holding on to blue-collar employees—such as restaurant servers, warehouse workers and drivers—who are in short supply, economists and human-resources specialists told the Journal.

Recent events confirm that trend. Whole Foods and Walt Disney have laid off corporate staff and retained customer-service workers such as grocery clerks and hourly theme-park attendants. Retail workers, including salespeople and cashiers, were among the most in-demand roles in the first quarter of the year, according to LinkedIn.

Roughly two-thirds of the 20 occupations that will create the most jobs through 2031 will be blue-collar jobs that pay around $32,000 a year, the U.S. Department of Labor projected. Those jobs include home-health and personal-care aides, restaurant cooks, fast-food workers, wait staff and freight movers. The professions requiring a college degree that have the best prospects for growth—and may be better protected from AI displacement—include software developers, operations managers and registered nurses. Those jobs pay around $100,000 a year.