McKinsey takes a sobering look at how the next wave of automation will impact the African American workforce and the outlook is grim without some changes. Some highlights:
Representation of the African American workforce in directive and support roles is proportionately opposite that of the general population, despite increasing evidence that inclusion and diversity are sources of competitive advantage. While a majority of the general population are employed in directive roles, a majority of African American workers are in support roles (Exhibit 1). Even without the effects of automation, this distribution exacerbates racial wealth inequality. For example, support roles are predicted to grow at 1.5 percent over the next decade, significantly slower than the 8.8 percent growth predicted for directive roles over the same period. Moreover, workers in support roles are paid less, with an average wage around $32,000, compared with nearly $69,000 for workers in directive roles.3
As the effects of automation play out, the racial distribution between support and directive roles is likely to become more concerning, and African Americans are especially vulnerable. That’s because a much higher percentage of the time spent on the support roles they work in will be automatable as companies adapt and develop technology—53 percent, compared with 31 percent for directive roles. Among the occupations we analyzed, that amounts to an estimated 459,000 more jobs that could be automated.
For example, African Americans are overrepresented in the category of truck drivers—that is, there are roughly 156,000 more African Americans driving trucks than their number in the total US population would predict. Given that overrepresentation, automation of that occupation would disproportionately affect African Americans, yet all African American truck drivers are vulnerable—as many as 581,000 workers. Eventually, as much as 80 percent of a truck driver’s work hours—the field’s “automation potential”—could be automated as technology rapidly evolves (Exhibit 2). By contrast, African Americans are underrepresented among software developers by around 100,000 employees nationwide. That field has an automation potential of 15 percent. Between the two—and intimately connected to projections of automation—the truck-driver category is projected to grow only 5 percent between 2016 and 2026, with a median wage of nearly $38,000, while the software-developer category is projected to grow by 18 percent, with a median wage of nearly $98,000.
The African American workforce itself, along with the broader community, should support the initiatives and ideas outlined in this article by partnering with or sponsoring the associated institutions. Beyond providing financial resources, there is an opportunity to provide perspective and insight on how to reach and serve communities of color. In Washington, DC, for example, an organization called Opportunity@Work seeks to help skilled, talented, overlooked Americans find jobs in today’s world.