Can retail ease automation’s impact on African American workers?
Many are anxious about the rate of technological change and the impact that automation could have on jobs and the economy, but some demographic groups may stand to suffer more than others. A recent study posits that African Americans will experience a disproportionate negative impact in the coming wave of automation.
African Americans, especially men, tend to be represented in job roles that are threatened by automation at a rate greater than other demographic groups, according to a study reported on Axios. They experience a higher unemployment rate as well, double that of white workers. There is also a geographical element to the concern, with African Americans living largely in portions of the country which are predicted to experience slow economic growth. By 2030, these factors may combine to lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs held by African Americans, widening the racial wealth gap and stifling overall economic growth.
A study from 2015 discussed on Demos indicates that retail is the industry employing the second highest number of African Americans in the country. Those retail employees already suffer disproportionate economic hardship with a greater likelihood of falling into the working poor category.
Further, retail is one of the industries most prone to disruption by automation. Customer-facing positions like cashiers already run the risk of being replaced with touchscreens, but innovations such as automated vehicles threaten the jobs of truck drivers as well. Robots that can move through warehouses and stores likewise stand to threaten janitorial, shelf-stocking and inventory-related jobs.
Even white collar/office jobs stand to be severely impacted by AI. A Financial Times article asserted that “knowledge work” could be swept away by technology faster than anything else, though some experts insist that this claim is overstated.
Concerns about the advent of AI have grown to prompt study at the government level. In 2016 the White House issued a report indicating that millions of jobs could be affected by AI, with citizens experiencing significant economic hardship if no plan is put into place to account for mass job loss and restructuring.
- Automation to hit African Americans disproportionately – Axios
- The Retail Race Divide – Demos
- How can the retail job market survive the AI revolution? – RetailWire
- Workplace automation: how AI is coming for your job – Financial Times
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What might the retail industry to do to brace for technological disruption and, specifically, the potential threat to African American workers’ jobs? Should employers take action now, or is the problem too far in the future to be of immediate concern?