For context, automation has been a part of our society for some time. Henry Ford perfected it when his Model T rolled off the assembly line every two hours and 30 minutes, down from 12 hours for each Model T built.
The computer has further transformed our lives with self-checkouts at grocery stores, ATM’s filling the void of having to go to the bank, driverless cars and now even artificial intelligence that not only solves an immediate problem but through its own deductive reasoning anticipates and solves the next problem even before you have thought about it.
A particular demographic that should be even more concerned are workers of color. According to a recent report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, automation disproportionately affects people of color because they are over-represented in the job categories that were previously mentioned. In other words, as a percentage, more people of color in blue-collar jobs will be affected by automation than white people. Consider these facts stated in the report:
More than 31 percent of Latino workers, 27 percent of African-American workers, 24 percent of white workers and 20 percent of Asian-American workers are concentrated in just 30 occupations at high risk of automation, such as retail sales, cashiers, secretaries, cooks and drivers.
Depending on strategic interventions, automation could either increase or decrease racial inequality.
The bottom line is that a major tsunami is headed our way and I am not sure anyone in our community is preparing for it. We’ve heard a lot about our HBCU’s preparing the next generation of students for STEM jobs and we’ve heard a lot about the future of privacy and data, but what about the generation of African Americans who do not have a college degree? What about the folks who are in these jobs now? Who’s looking out for their interest?
With the national unemployment rate at record lows for White and brown Americans, it feels like we’re in a bit of a groove where we are not really thinking about tomorrow. We’re just enjoying the fruits of our labor today. If we become complacent, we do so at our own peril. We must think through viable solutions that allow creativity and innovation but also guarantee the dignity of work for all Americans.
Robert Traynham is vice president of communications for the Bipartisan Policy Center. He can be reached on Twitter at @roberttraynham.