Economists at the International Monetary Fund found that past pandemics had encouraged firms to invest in machines in ways that could boost productivity – but also kill low-skill jobs. “Our results suggest that the concerns about the rise of the robots amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem justified,” they wrote in a January paper.

The consequences could fall most heavily on the less-educated women who disproportionately occupy the low- and mid-wage jobs most exposed to automation – and to viral infections. Those jobs include sales clerks, administrative assistants, cashiers and aides in hospitals and those who take care of the sick and elderly.

Employers seem eager to bring on the machines. A survey last year by the nonprofit World Economic Forum found that 43 per cent of companies planned to reduce their workforce as a result of new technology. Since the second quarter of 2020, business investment in equipment has grown 26 per…

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