Contributed by -

Dr. Kristen E. Broady


A 2017 study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually and also suggests that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055. While this is a promising projection for those focused solely on economic growth, it is a source of fear for Americans who are employed in fields most at risk to automation.  Automation will affect Americans of all races, but it will have a significant impact on African-American and Latino workers. This entry focuses on the extent to which African Americans, Latinos, whites, and Asian Americans work in the 10 occupations that employ the most people in the United States and have a high probability of automation over the next 10 to 20 years (above .8 on the 0 – 0.99 scale established by Frey and Osborne in their 2017 study). It further asks the question, what should we be doing to prepare ourselves for the new age of automation?

More than 19 percent of Latino workers and 15 percent of African-American workers are concentrated in the 10 occupations that employ the most people in the United States and have a high-risk for automation compared to 14 percent for white workers and 12 percent for Asian American workers. Of the 21.7 million Americans employed in these occupations, 13 percent (2.75 million) are African American.  According to a recent data brief from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, compared to white workers, African Americans are over one-and-a-half times more likely to be cashiers, cooks, food preparation and serving workers, production workers, laborers, and material movers. They are also over three times more likely to be security guards, bus drivers, and taxi drivers/chauffeurs, all jobs at high risk for automation.

Automation will present opportunities and challenges for workers, employers, governments, and educational institutions. Although sales from e-commerce companies like Amazon, Alibaba Group and decrease the number of sales and employees at traditional brick and mortar retail stores, these e-commerce giants create new jobs by hiring workers at their distribution and fulfillment centers. Proponents of automation and artificial intelligence suggest that it will increase overall employment opportunities.  These higher paying, higher skilled jobs will be created in fields related to software development, engineering, technological maintenance and support, and education and training. 

Despite the positive opportunities and potential for economic growth and efficiency, one of the main challenges will be combatting the substantial skills gap that already exists in the U.S.  Many businesses are currently unable to find qualified workers to fill available jobs.  Automation without strategic intervention will increase the skills gap, the wage gap, and increase economic inequality. African-American communities will face unique challenges in labor transitions as a result of automation.  On average, African-American households have a net worth that is one tenth that of white households, making loss of income even more difficult. Implicit bias and overt racial discrimination in hiring, evaluation and promotion decisions may negatively impact the economic position of African-American communities. Residential and educational segregation, transportation challenges, lower digital readiness and limitations in social networks are all obstacles that are more likely to be faced by underserved minority communities, especially African Americans.

Strategic interventions by educators, employers and policy makers will determine whether automation increases or decreases racial inequality.  Initiatives to increase connections between educators and employers could serve to create pipelines from school to employment for students and workers currently employed in lowered skills occupations.  Increasing funding for such programs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving institutions (MSIs) in order to equip African Americans and Latinos with premium skills and knowledge for new job opportunities would help reduce racial disparities in employment and income.

Business leaders, high schools, community organizations, HBCUs and MSIs should play a key role in preparing African-American and Latino students for the inevitable arrival of automation and emerging technologies.  Since their inception 180 years ago, HBCUs have provided African-American students with the best mechanism, and for some, the only opportunity to obtain a collegiate education.  HBCUs are leading institutions in awarding baccalaureate degrees to African-American students in life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, all fields that are necessary to support new technologies. Further, although HBCUs account for only 3.3 percent of all institutions of higher education, they award nearly 50 percent of all baccalaureate degrees received by African-American students in the natural and physical sciences and a little more than 25 percent of all baccalaureate degrees in engineering. 

Institutions must create innovative programs and partnerships to prepare students to face the future of work, which will inevitably include automation.  One example is the collaboration between Kentucky State University and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc. to prepare students for jobs in the field of engineering. Another example is the partnership between Year Up Atlanta and Atlanta Metropolitan State College where students can earn up to 21 college credits focusing on business and computer science during the first six months of the program, and then participate in a six-month internship at one of Year Up’s corporate partner firms.  Programs and collaborations like these that help prepare workers begin their careers or transition into higher-level occupations will be essential to the future of work in America.



Broady, K. E., “Race and Jobs at Risk to Automation,” Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, (December 2017)

Broady, K. E., Todd, C. L., & Booth-Bell, D. (2017). “Dreaming and Doing at Georgia HBCUs: Continued Relevancy in ‘Post-Racial’ America.” The Review of Black Political Economy44(1-2), 37-54.

Darity WA, Sharpe RV, Swinton OH. The state of blacks in higher education. Inc, New York: Beckham Publication Group; 2009.

Gallup-Purdue University Poll: The Relationship Between Student Debt, Experiences and Perceptions of College Worth. 2015.

Manyika, J. and Spence, M. (Feb.5, 2018).  The False Choice Between Automation and Jobs. Harvard Business Review. Accessed at:

Manyika, et. al. (January, 2017). “A Future That Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity.”  McKinsey Global Institute

Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2017). “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change114, 254-280.

Our Partners

Key partners supporting the National Urban League's mission for State of Black America Report

Subscribe our newsletter!

Scroll to Top