By Frederick H. Lowe
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington D.C,-based think tank concerned with work and work trends, recently published a report listing jobs held by blacks that are at high risk of automation now and in the very near future.
The list is two pages long, and 27 percent of black workers are concentrated in 30 occupations at high risk of automation. One of the jobs at very high risk underscored by recent events are jobs held by store cashiers. Because of automation, black workers may soon be cashed out of jobs.
The vocation employs 580,000 black workers out of a national cashier workforce of 3.3 million, according to the Joint Center. Cornerstone Capital Inc., a New York-based investment advisory firm, said the entire retail industry, which employs 10 percent of the U.S. labor force, is at high risk of automation.
Automation presents a major challenge to black workers because of implicit bias in hiring and evaluation, residential and educational segregation and lower rates of digital readiness.
Cornerstone Capital reported that cashiers are the second -largest group of retail workers and the lowest paid. Some 73 percent of cashiers are women.
“Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy,” Cornerstone Capital recently reported.
The Joint Center published its report, titled “Race and Jobs at High Risk of Automation” in December, one month before Amazon. com Inc. opened Amazon Go, an 1,800 square-foot grocery store in Seattle that does not employ any cashiers. The opening sounds the drumbeat for cashiers.
Shoppers download the Amazon app on their mobile phones and connect it to a credit or debit card. When a customer arrives, they use the app to enter the store. Then they can put their phone away. The purchases are charged to a customer’s registered credit or debit card. The store relies on cameras and sensors to track what shoppers remove from the shelves and what they put back, according to Amazon. The system also eliminates the need for stores to hire Hispanic, black and white security guards to monitor black shoppers.
Once the customer is finished shopping, he or she can just walk out the store. There’s no waiting because there are no checkout lines.
So far there is only one Amazon Go store, but Amazon, the online behemoth, last year purchased Whole Foods Market, the high-end grocery store chain and there is speculation Amazon will install the technology in Whole Foods stores.
This or similar technology is expected to change the supermarket industry because automation helps companies resist wage hikes that affect profitability.
Walmart, Amazon’s competitor, recently announced that it was expanding to 100 more stores its Scan & Go technology, which is similar to Amazon Go.
Shoppers download an app on their mobile phones, which allows them scan and bag items, including produce, while they shop. They pay for purchases directly with their phones.
Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, recently aired a television commercial for Scan & Go.
It’s not all bad news, however. The Joint Center reported automation will both eliminate old jobs and create new ones.
Amazon, for example, will eliminate sales jobs through automation but the company also will create new jobs by hiring workers through at its fulfillment centers and other parts of its distribution network.