People have long fearfully imagined a time when robots take over the world. And though it may still seem like a far-off Orwellian fantasy, automation is beginning to replace jobs formerly held by blue-collar workers. A new McKinsey & Company study, “The Future of Work in Black America,” reveals this shift to automation will hit African American men the hardest.
Automation refers to technologies like artificial intelligence, software and robots that take over low-skilled jobs. For companies, it is more cost-effective to use automation — robots do not require pay, benefits or breaks.
The McKinsey study found three factors leading to Black men feeling the brunt of this shift: One, African American men are overrepresented in high-displacement job categories, that is, jobs that are more likely to be replaced by automation. Some examples of these jobs include food service, factory workers, data-entry workers and retail workers. Two, African American men are underrepresented in low-displacement job categories, which include occupations like farming, teaching and nursing as well as creative, business and legal jobs. Third, African American men are less likely to live in areas expected to see the most economic growth in the next decade.
The study found Black women were less likely to feel the brunt of automation because they are more represented in health care jobs as nurses, home health aides and personal care aides. The demand for occupations like these is likely to expand over the next 10 years.
The study analyzed 13 community archetypes to measure what demographics made up the types of areas most likely to suffer from the shift to automation. Black men were underrepresented in five out of the six types of areas expected to see the most growth and overrepresented in two out of the six types of areas expected to see the least growth. One out of those two — distressed Americana — is expected to see negative growth.
The mean displacement across the entire Black workforce is 23.1%, but for Black men, its 24.8%. For Black women, the rate is lower at 21.6%. The racial wealth gap is high as it is. The New York Times found that for every $100 a white family earns, a Black family earns $57.30. The McKinsey study reports that closing the racial wealth gap could net the U.S. between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028.
To help remedy this issue, the report recommends improving the areas in which African American communities live and improving access to good education. Black people are overrepresented in statistics of those who have only obtained a high school or associate’s degree but underrepresented in the attainment of a Bachelor’s or graduate degree. The higher the education level a person achieves, the less likely they are to hold a job that will be replaced by automation.