Racial differences on the Future of Work: A Survey of the American Workforce

Working Paper*, Mar 15, 2019

This report summarizes findings from the Joint Center’s 2018 survey of Black, Hispanic, Asian American, and White workers on the future of work.

  • While 38% of American workers reported “increased use of technology” on their job, only 12% noticed “more automation.” More White and Asian American respondents saw technological change than did Hispanic and African American respondents.
  • A quarter of Hispanic workers reported moving from salaried to hourly work over the course of their current employment, which is over twice as high as other racial groups.
  • Americans of all racial backgrounds are more likely to believe that technology provides more opportunity rather than less opportunity and/or worker displacement. Racial disparities exist, however. While 41% of Asian American workers see technology as creating greater opportunities, for example, only 24% of Black workers agree that technology has produced more opportunities. African American and Hispanic workers are significantly less likely than White and Asian American workers to see technology as creating greater workplace efficiencies.
  • American workers value job security above other benefits, including over pathways to new opportunities and paid training. Black and Asian American workers, however, see job security as particularly important. About 40% of African American and 38% of Asian American workers ranked job security as the most important benefit offered by their employer. A relatively low number of African American and White workers—7% of each—prioritized pathways to new opportunities. Hispanic workers, more than workers of other racial groups, value retirement benefits and pathways to new opportunities. White workers were more likely than others to value healthcare benefits.
  • Workers are interested in employer-provided training. Respondents from all racial backgrounds were very interested or somewhat interested in participating in employer-provided training (85% of Asian American workers and approximately 70% of White, Black, and Hispanic workers).
  • A majority of Americans from all racial backgrounds are willing to invest some of their own money to obtain additional job training that could potentially advance their careers, but the interest seems concentrated in spending between $1-$2000 and declines significantly for higher amounts. A larger percentage of African Americans (24%) and Whites (19%) expressed an unwillingness to invest any of their own money in training than Hispanics (15%) and Asian Americans (14%). Significant racial disparities in interest for spending one’s own money for training appear in spending over $500.
  • Regardless of race, financial constraints were the most-cited barrier to obtaining additional job training. Roughly 50 percent of the respondents from each racial group reported that financial constraints stood in the way of them obtaining additional job training. Feeling personally incapable of acquiring new skills was the least cited barrier.
  • Americans across racial groups generally see the federal government, individuals/families, and employers as bearing greater responsibility than schools and state governments in preparing the workforce for a changing economy. African Americans, however, were more likely to believe the federal government has the greatest responsibility, and were less likely to believe individuals/families bear the greatest responsibility. Whites and Asian Americans were more likely than African Americans and Hispanics to believe employers bear the greatest responsibility.
  • People of color have a significant interest in education and training. Asian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics were all more likely to be interested than Whites in obtaining education or training from all the options we provided—including a college degree program, online college, community college, online training, a trade union, and a GED.
  • With regard to the most impactful steps schools can take to prepare children for the future economy, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans were much more likely than Whites to prioritize teaching computer programming. Hispanic and White Americans were more likely than African Americans and Asian Americans to prioritize vocational training. African Americans and Whites were more likely than Asian Americans and Latinos to prioritize core educational subjects such as math, science, and language arts.

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Ismail White

Ismail K. White was an Associate Professor of political science at George Washington University. He now teaches at Duke University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2005, and his B.A. in Political Science from Southern University, Baton rouge in 1997.


Harin Contractor

A self-described data nerd, Harin loves working on problems, looking for creative solutions, and helping people make connections to enhance their goals. Previously, Harin worked at a tech start-up that used government data to empower communities and worked in the Obama Administration at the U.S Department of Labor as the Economic Policy Advisor to the Secretary. Harin is a graduate of the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago.

*This working paper was made possible by the US 2050 project, supported by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


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