How Companies Can Help Conquer Racial Inequity and Create Future Work For Black Americans

How Companies Can Help Conquer Racial Inequity and Create Future Work For Black Americans

When it comes to landing choice jobs, Black American workers face a significant gap compared to their White peers.

Indeed, White workers are 50% more likely than workers of color to capture good jobs. Controlling for educational attainment, 1.6 million workers of color would need job upgrades to close the racial gaps.

“Race and the Work of the Future: Advancing Workforce Equity in the United States” is an in-depth analysis of long-standing racial gaps in labor market outcomes, the economic impacts of COVID-19, and the racial equity implications of automation.

The research includes new data that show how racial inequity poses the greatest threat to a lasting recovery and inclusive future of work.  It was released Nov. 12 by the National Equity Atlas partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, Burning Glass Technologies, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and JPMorgan Chase.

The analysis reveals how COVID-19 continues to deepen pre-existing racial inequities in the labor market. And while trends show demand is returning for some jobs, they are not jobs that can sustain American families. Today,  people of color account for about 38% of the U.S. workforce ages 25-64, and almost 50% of the population under 25. The fresh report dares employers, educators, and policymakers to take a comprehensive approach that centers racial equity and quality jobs for all Americans as the foundation of a prosperous future.

“If we want the 110 million workers in the U.S. who are not in good jobs to fully participate and prosper in our economy, we must dismantle the systemic racism that is embedded in so many parts of it,” Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink, stated in a news release. “Job quality needs to be at the center of our efforts, to make sure that the recovery from this pandemic is one that is felt by all Americans and that all workers are paid well, treated fairly, and resilient in the face of economic changes.”

Other key report findings, according to the news release, were:

  • Higher educational attainment is critical but insufficient to eliminate workforce inequitiesHigher education greatly narrows racial gaps in labor force participation and employment, but does not equalize income. Consider that the median wage ($19/hour) for White workers with a high school diploma and no college compared to that of  for Black workers with an associate’s degree ($18/hour).
  • The early rebound in labor market demand is leaving workers of color behind. Black workers, in particular, have not recovered from the early spike in unemployment as quickly as other workers even though demand for the occupations they held before the crisis has returned more quickly than demand for other jobs.
  • Automation is accelerating in the wake of the pandemic, and it disproportionately places people of color and immigrants at risk of being dislocated from their jobs. Latinx workers face 28% greater automation risk than White workers, and Native American and Black workers respectively face 21% and 18% more risk.

The bottom line is racial inequity is a burden on economic growth. Consider 2018: the American economy could have been $2.3 trillion stronger if there had been no racial gaps in wages or employment for working-age people. Without a change in course, the cost of exclusion will grow as the workforce becomes more diverse, the report disclosed.

Manuel Pastor, director of USC’s Equity Research Institute, said, “As our nation grows rapidly more diverse, we must address the root causes of racial inequities in the workforce. Skills development is critically important, but we can’t train our way out of structural racism. We cannot build a just and fair economy for working people without also tackling the challenges of disinvestment in Black and Brown communities, racial discrimination in hiring, and labor standards designed to disadvantage people of color.”

The report was funded by JPMorgan Chase. The nation’s largest bank reported the analysis will help inform the firm’s philanthropic decisions–in the face of a shifting labor landscape–as part of its New Skills at Work initiative to ready people for the future of work. It also comes after the firm’s new $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity and drive an inclusive economic recovery.

“Systemic racial inequities across our country have kept too many people–especially in Black and Latinx communities–from accessing quality jobs and career pathways,” said Jennie Sparandara, head of workforce initiatives at JPMorgan Chase. “At JPMorgan Chase, we’re focused on making data-driven investments that support better outcomes and more inclusive talent pipelines for workers and businesses alike, particularly in underserved communities.”

So what can be done to help remove jobs gap barriers for Black Americans and help them conquer COVID-19-related employment hardships? The report offers some conclusions to help conquer the good job issue. They include:


  • “Realizing shared economic prosperity will require large-scale transformation across workforce systems, from education to employment to social support. This systems-change approach will require significant investment and sustained collaborative efforts and may seem to place equity on a distant horizon. But targeted strategies to improve job quality and ensure equal access to safe and stable employment can chart the course to an equitable future of work.”
  • “Good jobs and inclusive growth are the bedrock of shared prosperity, and now more than ever—amid the economic uncertainty of the current moment and the projected scale of technological transformation in the not-too-distant future—racial equity is essential to securing the nation’s economic stability and resilience.”