Innovation and Opportunity Program

 

Racial Equality and the Future of Work

 

The Joint Center’s Future of Work Project focuses on finding solutions to help workers transition to a new labor market, with a special emphasis on the unique challenges faced by African American workers.

 

America is changing.  Grocery stores are installing self-checkout lanes. Manufacturing plants increasingly use industrial robots. Driverless trucks, buses, and cars will soon be commonplace.

While these changes will displace some workers, new opportunities will also arise. For example, economist Michael Mandel found that from 2007 to 2016 the general retail sector lost 51,000 jobs, while the ecommerce sector added 355,000 jobs.   

Often, future of work discussions speculate about whether more jobs will be eliminated or created.  Few, however, grapple with whether automation will deepen longstanding racial disparities.

 

The Impact of Automation on Black Workers

In a brief released at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Weekend, the Joint Center found that 24% of all African American workers are concentrated in just 20 occupations at high risk to automation (e.g., cashiers, retail sales, drivers, cooks).

 

African American workers are also overrepresented in particular jobs at high risk to automation.  For example, compared to White workers, African American workers are:

  • Over one-and-a-half times more likely to be cashiers
  • Over one-and-a-half times more likely to be combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast food)
  • Over three times more likely to be security guards
  • Over three times more likely to be bus drivers
  • Almost four times more likely to be taxi drivers and chauffeurs
 
The African American community also faces unique challenges that make it particularly vulnerable in labor market transitions, such as:
  • Unemployment rates twice as high as Whites
  • An average household net worth that is one tenth that of Whites (making periods without income particularly difficult)
  • Implicit bias in hiring and evaluation
  • Higher rates of criminal arrests and convictions
  • Residential and educational segregation
  • Transportation challenges
  • Lower rates of digital readiness, and
  • Limitations in social networks.
 
 
The Solution
 

The Joint Center helps communities with large African American populations anticipate changes in the economy, and develop a local workforce with the skills to mitigate challenges and seize new opportunities.

 

The Joint Center devises accessible, solutions-based strategies tailored to the community.  We produce executive summaries, infographic fact sheets, 2-minute animated policy videos (click here for examples), policy briefs, public opinion survey data briefs, and reports (click here for our 5G and Smart Cities report).

 

The Joint Center collaborates with other organizations to help the African American community navigate future labor market transitions. We use clear metrics to assess the effectiveness of our efforts and opportunities for improvement.  

This work builds on the Joint Center's past research on African Americans and technology and economic issues, and over a dozen 2017 meetings with experts in tech and race, health, energy, transportation, and financial services.  

In the movie Hidden Figures, African American NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan predicted that an incoming IBM computer would displace “human computers” in the 1960s. In anticipation, she learned the computer language Fortran, and she taught it to her team of Black women mathematicians.  When the IBM arrived, the team was ready and took over new jobs operating the IBM.

 

The women in Hidden Figures, start ups like Amazon, and places like Singapore all strategically used innovation to leapfrog ahead.

 

We want the same thing to happen in places like Baltimore, Detroit, Gary, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and the rural Black Belt of Alabama and Mississippi.

 

About the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

The Joint Center, founded in 1970 as the Black think tank (history here), works with experts to provide evidence-based research, accessible solutions, and technical assistance to help communities with large African American populations solve problems. The Joint Center has close relationships with and presents at the conferences of Black elected official organizations and advocacy groups, and appears weekly on the most popular African American TV news show. We also collaborate closely with organizations from other communities (e.g., National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials) on racial diversity and other issues of common interest. The Joint Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.