In new research, Youn and colleagues seek to understand how machines will disrupt the economies of individual cities. By carefully analyzing the workforces of American metropolitan areas, the team calculated what portion of jobs in each area is likely to be automated in coming decades.
They found that, in general, small cities will have higher portions of their workforce replaced by machines than large cities. The reason: While cities of all sizes have many easily automated jobs (like card dealers, fisherman, cashiers, and accountants), large cities like Boston also have larger shares of managerial and knowledge professions (like lawyers, scientists, and software developers). Since these jobs require knowledge and skills that cannot easily be taught to a machine, they will offset the total impact of automation. In smaller cities, fewer of those offsetting jobs exist.
Based on this finding, Youn says small cities could see an exodus of workers, as well as exacerbated income inequality, since robots are likely to hollow out the middle class there. And large cities are not entirely immune. Las Vegas, for example, has two million people in its metropolitan area, but its economy relies heavily on an industry whose jobs are likely to be automated.