Almost all new jobs will be high-paying after Covid and most low-wage workers will have to change careers, McKinsey report says

Indoor  dining nyc
A waiter delivers food to a table at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on October 1, 2020 in New York. BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images
  • A new McKinsey report on the future of work projects a dire future for low-wage jobs.
  • Almost all growth in labor demand will occur in high-wage jobs,” the report finds.
  • More than half of low-wage workers in “declining” jobs like food service will have to find new careers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A new McKinsey report on the future of work post-pandemic paints a dire picture for low-wage workers

The report focuses on the pandemic’s impacts on workers, employment, and the resulting types of jobs in eight different countries. Some of the resulting projections seem to follow a K-shape.

Before the pandemic, almost all low-wage workers who lost their jobs could just move into a different low-wage position, per the report. Post-pandemic, that looks like it won’t be an option anymore.

Workers in low-wage jobs that are “declining” – like food service – will have to make a bigger change: McKinsey says that more than half of them will need to find higher-paying jobs (which require different skills) to stay employed post-pandemic.

“Compared to our pre-COVID‑19 estimates, we expect to see the largest negative impact of the pandemic falling on workers in food service and customer sales and service roles, as well as less-skilled office support roles,” the report says.

Low and medium-wage positions will likely see the most net job growth declines. In the United States alone, the report projects that 4.3 million jobs could be lost in customer service and food service. Overall, it finds that about 17 million Americans will have to leave their jobs and transition into new ones; that’s a 28% increase from McKinsey’s pre-pandemic estimate of 3.8 million. 

On the flip side, higher-wage jobs are the ones that will see growth, particularly those in healthcare and STEM fields. “Almost all growth in labor demand will occur in high-wage jobs,” the report says.

“This trend is markedly different from the dynamics seen in many countries before the pandemic, when net job losses were concentrated in middle-wage occupations in manufacturing as automation took over routine tasks while growth continued in low- and high-wage jobs,” the report says.

That trend aligns with America’s K-shaped recovery, where higher-wage workers see their jobs and incomes grow, and low-wage workers experience the opposite.

But workers all over the globe will still feel the impact of post-pandemic trends: By 2030, over 100 million workers – around one in 16, according to McKinsey – will have to find a different job.