Automation To Hit African Americans Hardest

Written by Staff
automation
African American women in healthcare may fare better than African American men in terms of job displacement from automation. Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

African Americans are often overrepresented in jobs most likely to be affected by automation and could experience a dramatically deteriorating employment outlook, according to a new report from McKinsey & Co.

Public and private sectors need to raise awareness of automation risk among African Americans, the authors said.

African Americans are underrepresented in occupational categories that are most resistant to automation-based displacement such as education, health, business, and legal, where there could be future job growth. African Americans are overrepresented in office support, food services, truck operation and production work — the areas most vulnerable to a loss in jobs.

By 2030, African American workers could lose hundreds of thousands of jobs from increased automation, widening the racial wealth gap and weighing down overall U.S. growth.

McKinsey’s research suggests that African American women may fare better than African American men in terms of job displacement. African American women are projected to have a lower displacement rate (21.6 percent) than the total displacement rates of the white (22.4 percent) and Asian American (21.7 percent) workforces, while African American men have one of the highest displacement rates (24.8 percent).

That’s because African American women are significantly overrepresented in the top 15 occupations for women including home health aides, nursing assistants, and personal-care aides.

2 possible solutions

There are two possible solutions to limit the adverse effects of automation. 

One involves geography: improving economic conditions in regions where African Americans are concentrated or enabling African American worker mobility. The second involves improving skill development and education levels in African American communities for better jobs less vulnerable to disruption by automation.

Geography

Strategy: focus on the top 10 counties where 2030 job growth is projected to be the lowest for African Americans. For example, white employees in Baltimore City are projected to see job growth by 2030, whereas African American jobs could sharply decline.

Improving skills

Displacement risk fall significantly for employees who have bachelor’s degrees. Historically Black colleges and universities educate and train almost 20 percent of all African American college graduates despite making up only 3 percent of the country’s colleges and universities. Focusing on HBCUs can help decrease this educational attainment gap.

Private- and public-sector employers could explore changing policies to prioritize hiring skilled workers rather than requiring workers to have university degrees. For example, Opportunity@Work advocated for removing bachelor’s degree requirements from occupation descriptions. Recently, Apple and Home Depot redefined their occupation requirements to value hands-on experience in the same light as academic credentials.

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Occupation switching is one strategy that may help improve opportunities for African American workers in faster-growing occupations. For example, stock clerks and team assemblers have jobs that are 91 percent compatible but team assemblers earn $6,000 more a year and are projected to see an increase in job opportunities, while stock clerks could see a significant decline due to automation.

Half of the top 10 occupations with the greatest net-job-growth potential for African Americans by 2030 are in healthcare. However, reskilling and additional education to transition into these roles is expensive for lower-wage workers.

McKinsey suggests that public and private sectors should implement targeted programs to increase awareness of automation risk among African Americans.

Some companies already onboard with that include Kroger, which offers employees an education benefit of up to $3,500 annually ($21,000 over the course of employment) for continuing education and development. Kroger workers can use the benefit “Feed Your Future” to take high school equivalency exams, professional certifications, and advanced degrees. JPMorgan Chase has a five-year, $350 million reskilling initiative that includes developing innovative education and training programs at local levels and investments in strengthening education and training.