A.I. and African-American workers by Marc H. Morial
11/27/2019, 6 p.m.
“Black America’s collective response to emerging technology will determine whether it is an opportunity or an existential threat.” – George H. Lambert Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Urban League
A new report about the future of work in the United States casts a somber outlook about the effects of artificial intelligence on African- American employment, particularly for African-American men. According to a recent headline, artificial intelligence is slated to disrupt 4.5 million jobs forAfrican-Americans, who have a 10 percent greater likelihood of automation-based job loss than other workers.
The report, titled “The Future of Work in Black America,” was produced by the management consulting company McKinsey & Company.
African-American men are overrepresented in the jobs most likely to be lost, such as food services, retail workers, office support and factory workers.
African-American men also are underrepresented in the jobs least likely to be lost to artificial intelligence. These include educators, health professionals ,legal professionals and agricultural workers.
According to the report, “Only half of the top 10 occupations that African-Americans typically hold pay above the federal poverty guidelines for a family of four ($25,750), and all 10 of those occupations fall below the median salary for a U.S. worker ($52,000). Many of these occupations are among the top 15 occupations most at risk of automation-based displacement and are also projected to affect young African-American workers without a college degree.”
Geography plays a role, too.
African-Americans are underrepresented in the areas of the country where job growth is predicted to be the highest — places like Seattle; Sarasota, Fla.; and South Bend, Ind.
“Distressed americana showed negative net job growth from 2007 to 2017 and is projected to show negative job growth through 2030,” according to the report. “African-Americans in these distressed areas may dis- proportionately feel the negative effects of impending economic and technological changes, see fewer new opportunities and face additional challenges in transitioning to the economy of the future.”
African-Americans are far less likely than white people to be employed in social media and technology companies — less than 5 percent of the workforce compared with more than 50 percent for white people. Less than 6 percent of total black employment in 2017 was in the tech industry compared with 8.5 percent for white people.
Black families remain less likely than white families to have dedicated internet access at home, yet African-Americans are the second-largest multicultural group, after Asian Americans, for mobile device ownership, with 91 percent owning smart phones. Black millennials are influential, leading users of mobile technology and platforms, and voracious consumers and creators of digital content, but lag behind in tech employment.
The McKinsey report included recommendations to avert a crisis, including:
• More economic investments into high-skilled jobs in cities and markets where African- Americans are currently over-represented can directly pave a path of job stability.
• Mobility of black workers into new geographical markets with higher projected job growth.
• Focused initiatives by university/collegiate education to recruit and retain black students.
• Financial investment into Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
• Employer investment in re-skilling programs and training courses can meaningfully help offset skill gaps among under-represented groups.
These recommendations reflect the long-standing positions of the Urban League Movement. Elected officials, business and community leaders and educational institutions must be mindful of the risk to the African- American workforce and work together to ensure that the job opportunities of the future are available to everyone.
The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.