The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow by McKinsey Global Institute

The US labor market looks markedly different today than it did two decades ago. It has been reshaped by dramatic events like the Great Recession but also by a quieter ongoing evolution in the mix and location of jobs. In the decade ahead, the next wave of automation technologies may accelerate the pace of change. Millions of jobs could be phased out even as new ones are created. More broadly, the day-to-day nature of work could change for nearly everyone as intelligent machines become fixtures in the American workplace.

Until recently, most research on the potential effects of automation, including our own, has focused on the national-level effects. Our previous work ran multiple scenarios regarding the pace and extent of adoption. In the midpoint case, our modeling shows some jobs being phased out but sufficient numbers being added at the same time to produce net positive job growth for the United States as a whole through 2030.

The day-to-day nature of work could change for nearly everyone as intelligent machines become fixtures in the American workplace.

But the national results contain a wide spectrum of outcomes. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow (PDF–4.41MB), analyzes more than 3,000 US counties and 315 cities and finds they are on sharply different paths. Automation is not happening in a vacuum, and the health of local economies today will affect their ability to adapt and thrive in the face of the changes that lie ahead.

The trends outlined in this report could widen existing disparities between high-growth cities and struggling rural areas, and between high-wage workers and everyone else. But this is not a foregone conclusion. The United States can improve outcomes nationwide by connecting displaced workers with new opportunities, equipping people with the skills they need to succeed, revitalizing distressed areas, and supporting workers in transition. Returning to more inclusive growth will require the combined energy and ingenuity of business leaders, policy makers, educators, and nonprofits across the country.

Local economies have been on diverging trajectories for years

Cities and counties across the United States are entering this period of technological and labor market change from different starting points. We used a mathematical clustering method to categorize all US cities and counties into 13 archetypes based on their economic health, business dynamism, industry mix, labor force demographics, and other characteristics (download the full list of locations in each segment). This approach reveals that the differences between local economies across the country are more nuanced than a simple rural-urban divide or regional variations. Our 13 archetypes can be grouped into five segments with common patterns:

Urban core. Twenty-five megacities and high-growth hubs account for roughly 30 percent of the US population and are the nation’s most dynamic places. The high-growth industries of high tech, media, healthcare, real estate, and finance make up a large share of these local economies. These cities have higher incomes, faster employment growth since the Great Recession, high net migration, and younger and more educated workforces than the rest of the country—but also high levels of income inequality. Many are experiencing congestion and affordable housing shortages.

By Susan Lund, James Manyika, Liz Hilton Segel, André Dua, Bryan Hancock, Scott Rutherford, and Brent Macon

Full report and Downloadable Resources on

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