Why a new job automation report is worse for African-Americans than other groups

Automation will hurt some more than others.

robots factory automation

Though it’s difficult to nail down how many jobs automation will eliminate in the near future, research indicates about a quarter of jobs could soon be automated. That means robots will soon put tens of millions of people out of work. Automation will impact working-class people from all different kinds of backgrounds, but a new report shows it will harm black communities the most.

“African-Americans are overrepresented in occupations likely to be most affected by automation,” the report reads. “We measured job displacement as a percentage of jobs potentially lost due to automation by 2030, and found that because of their concentration in occupations at risk of automation, African-Americans have one of the highest rates of potential job displacement when compared with other groups.”

The report indicates roughly 132,000 jobs that are held by black Americans will be lost to automation by 2030. The report also claims that black Americans are generally “geographically removed from future job growth centers,” which will make matters worse.

automation robotics wages
Robot warehouse workers like these prototypes from Boston Dynamics aren't likely to take over soon, but other types of automation are already happening.

It seems automation will contribute to an existing problem, which is that the median white family has 41 times the wealth of the median black family and black unemployment is about twice as high as white unemployment. Automation will only increase the racial wealth gap.

See also: Robots and Automation Will Have Taken Over 52 Percent of Tasks by 2025

The report claims black men will be harmed by automation slightly more than black women. That’s partially because black women tend to work more in the healthcare industry, which is not being threatened by automation nearly as much as other industries. Black men tend to work more in jobs like truck driving and food service, the report says.

black nurse automation

“African American men have a potential displacement rate of 24.8 percent, and African American women have a significantly lower displacement rate of 21.6 percent,” the report says.

Automation will also disproportionately harm people under the age of 35 and people without college degrees.

All is not lost, though. The report explains that there are some solutions to this problem. One of the major drivers of this problem is that black Americans are less likely than white Americans to have a college degree, so much of the solutions the report recommends have to do with that issue.

The authors recommend beginning efforts to increase the number of black Americans who go to college, encourage companies to hire more people who do not hold college degrees and increase the use of career counseling services to help black Americans find jobs that match their skill set that are less likely to be automated. 

The threat of automation is nothing new, though the administration of President Donald Trump hasn’t addressed it in detail. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dismissed the notion and then backpedaled in the early months of the Trump adminstration. That’s been the largest the issue has gotten.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama thought it big enough an issue to mention it during his farewell address in January 2017.

“The next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete,” Obama said then.