How AI could harm social mobility

The divide between rich and poor could widen as people are forced to retrain in new occupations

Economists think automation and AI technologies will make the divide between rich and poor even bigger as it leads to job losses and forces people to retrain in alternative occupations - which only the rich will be able to do.

Charity Sutton Trust thinks that this means only the rich will have the funds to completely change their career path, while skills such as communication and confidence will rise and there won't be as many jobs that can be used as a "stepping stone" to leverage positions in professional industries.

The organisation highlighted job roles such as paralegals and other professional services that will be replaced by robots. For example, the Sutton Trust thinks up to 350,000 paralegals, payroll managers, and bookkeepers may be jobless in the future as roles become automated. Those that couldn't afford to go to university to gain degrees often started their careers as paralegals and in other professional services, learning the skills on the job.

"Traditionally, jobs like these have been a vehicle for social mobility," Sutton Trust research manager Carl Cullinane told The Verge. "But because they don't require more advanced skills they're likely to be vulnerable to automation."

The Sutton Trust's report revealed than in total, up to 15 million jobs in the UK could be replaced by robots in the future, although the drive to make STEM training a core subject in schools will hopefully help shrink the social mobility gap.

"From a social mobility perspective there are two important things about the STEM sector," added Cullinane. "Firstly, there doesn't seem to be a substantial gap in the income background of people taking STEM related subjects, and secondly, there isn't a resulting pay gap for those who come from different backgrounds. If the STEM sector is going to be the main source of growth over the medium to long term, that's a real opportunity to leverage social mobility there."

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