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Automation and the future of the African American workforce

How automation affects the US workforce is largely a question of which jobs and activities can be most easily automated. At a macro level, change will take time to occur. It’s not likely that a million truck drivers will be thrown out of work in the next few years, because the technologies to automate these roles have not matured, nor have companies developed business cases to use them. But at the micro level, change can happen quickly as individual workers are displaced—which is more likely in some types of roles than in others. The kinds of support activities performed by service workers, administrative-support workers, operatives, laborers, and helpers are, not surprisingly, more easily automated than are the directive activities performed by executives, professionals, technicians, and sales and craft workers. And that leaves African Americans especially vulnerable. In fact, when we overlaid racial representation over automation assessments of nearly 2,000 different detailed work activities in more than 800 occupations, we found that African American workers are disproportionately concentrated in the kinds of support roles most likely to be affected. Moreover, we found that efforts to ease a general workforce transition into an automated future could wind up worsening existing racial disparities in income, opportunity, and wealth