By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM

Black and Latino workers face a bleak outlook due to a myriad of challenges including automation–the use of computers and technology in substitution for human labor–reentry, and education, according to national facts, figures, and expert analysis.

But there is help and hope, particularly for the formerly incarcerated who want to work but face structural barriers like discrimination to securing employment, particularly within the period immediately following release, according to Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit, non-partisan research group.

Jamal McDuffie is a portrait of many men and women who are reentering society and getting assistance for better job futures from organizations like Providing Valuable Jobs (PV Jobs) based in Los Angeles.


“Basically, what they have to offer is a second chance at life to support their families, to be strong individuals back out here in society, being productive, also employment.   That’s what really was lacking in re-entry into the society, a lack of jobs,” said Mr. McDuffie.   “Now, they have that.   Hopefully, a lot of us can provide for our families, our kids, and loved ones.”

The 46 year old was released from prison in mid-August after serving eight years and on August 30, he graduated with 21 others from the PV Jobs 2019 Construction 101 program.   He was scheduled to start work as a construction carpenter on September 2.

Mr. McDuffie told The Final Call, PV Jobs gave him a new-found look at life, and he’s thankful.   “It provided me my own way of being employed, being able to provide for my family … turn my life around and not thinking about gang-banging, but thinking about what life is really all about,” he stated.

Mr. McDuffie holds a very special place in Mary Taylor’s heart.   As associate director of PV Jobs and through federal grant funding, she’s able to serve her community by providing the formerly incarcerated one-on-one coaching, case management and opportunities for training and entry into apprenticeship programs.

When Mr. McDuffie started training on the first day, Ms. Taylor said they weren’t sure he was going to make it, because he had just been released from a men’s community release program after the required year.

“That was his first day living in the community and he came to training on the first day out, so that in and of itself shows a lot about his focus, his motivation, that he could have easily went and visited family and friends, and took a couple of days to just re-acclimate to the community, but he didn’t.   He came right into class and was able to be here the whole entire time,” said Ms. Taylor.

“We learned very quickly that in order for us to really be able to refer an individual and feel confident in their skill set that we had to see what their skill set was.   We had to not only see it, but we had to also add to the skill set and provide opportunities for technical skills (like carpentry and hands-on skills), soft skills (ability to get along with a team, de-escalate situations, present, and acclimate to work environments),” she stated.   “Not having one of those things can really hinder someone.   Not having both of those things can really put a barrier in front of someone,” added Ms. Taylor.

Mr. McDuffie was among 22 men who completed PV Jobs’ three-week intensive, safety, hands-on, life skills and soft skills training program.   Participants are trained and ready to go into the Electrical Training Institute and enter jobs as operating engineers.

“Some of our participants are lifers, that are coming back after being in prison for 15-20 years, and the city looks completely different than it did when they went in, and they went in as young men and they’re coming home as adults and now being able to re-acclimate to this highly technological world, but they have been doing it in a very successful way,” said Ms. Taylor.

Then there are challenges with outcomes and program availability in automation, according to authors of “The Future of Work: The Effect of Job Automation on African-American and Latino Workers in Three Cities,” released on August 19.  

Cities work to connect students with education after high school and career opportunities, but they are still plagued with low performance on standard academic tests and indicators of college or career readiness.

“We don’t realize how much computers have already entered our lives … verbal instructions to Siri … to your refrigerator, your TV … that will increase in the future,” said “Future of Work” co-author Patrick Mason, Ph.D., professor of Economics and director of African American Studies at Florida State University.

At one point, people didn’t believe it was possible to have automatic cars, but they’re already here, and driving themselves, he said.   His six-year-old car not only tells him when it’s time to take it in for service, but it tells him exactly what’s wrong with it, through computer sensors, Prof. Mason chuckled.   So, it doesn’t matter if job tasks require high levels of reasoning or problem solving, or if they are manual, he added.

“A computer can ask you what’s wrong with you? Where are you hurting? … So, when most people think of automation and computerizing jobs as something that will just happen to lower income jobs, or manual, well, not so,” Prof. Mason told The Final Call.

Automation is changing the nature of work, the composition of employment, and the distribution of income, “Future of Work” authors found. They predicted that nine to 47 percent of occupations (13 million to 68 million jobs) will be lost to automation in the upcoming decades.

The authors analyzed the current state of research on job automation and provided a case study in Gary, Indiana (because it is Midwest and majority Black populated by 80 percent–61,932 out of 77,416), Columbia, South Carolina (for its small population of 132,236), and Long Beach, California (because it’s population of 470,489 is majority Latino (43 percent– 202,310).  

These cities are engaging in efforts to innovate in public secondary career and technical education, but they continue to face challenges of low academic performance as well as low rates of college and career preparedness, according to the report.

“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan shared with us years ago that he wanted every home to have a computer, because he could see over two decades ago that the world was going digital and that if our people did not keep the pace … if we do not as a people bridge those gaps, we will be falling further and further behind,” stated Marcus Muhammad, mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan.      

“Many of the night school programs, GED programs, apprenticeship programs have died on the vine due to the lack of funding,” he said.   According to Mayor Muhammad, the City of Benton Harbor, under former President Bill Clinton’s administration, received over $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funding, and now under the Trump administration, it receives a little over $400,000.

“That killed summer youth employment in which employability skills are taught, along with adult programming where apprenticeships and other job skills can be taught … It literally eviscerates an entire section of your populous and renders them severely challenged to compete and maintain a quality standard of living in society,” he stated.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, Black workers had the highest unemployment rate nationally, at 6.5 percent, followed by Hispanic (4.5 percent), Asian (3.2 percent) and Whites (3.1 percent), according to statistics reported by Dr. Valerie Wilson, director, Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy with the Economic Policy Institute.

Further, she indicated in an April 14, 2019 report, the District of Columbia has a Black-White unemployment ratio of 5.7-to-1, while Alabama and Mississippi have the highest ratios among states (3.0-to-1 and 2.8-to-1, respectively).   Blacks had the highest unemployment rate in D.C. (11.8 percent), followed by Pennsylvania (8.9 percent), Illinois (8.8 percent), Louisiana (8 percent), and Mississippi (7.7 percent). The highest Hispanic state unemployment rate is in Washington (7.5 percent), followed by Pennsylvania (7.1 percent), Arizona (6.3 percent), Connecticut (5.8 percent), and Oregon (5.8 percent).

Despite the outlook, Prof. Mason said that people with occupations complimentary to computers are likely to see large increases in pay and greater demand for their services, and, jobs less amenable to computerization such as nurses and nurses aids that require human interaction and varying tasks are more secure.
“New jobs will be created.   Think about when the automobile came along, people who were doing stuff with horses were out of work, but lots of new jobs were created, and there’s always been this anxiety related to technology and employment, that the technology would eliminate all the jobs and eliminate the need for people. Well, that’s true,” said Prof. Mason. “With technology you need fewer people per unit of output, but when you’re making different output, new jobs will be created, more output will be created, so will there be some issues regarding transition to increasingly computerized workforce?   Yeah, but there are going to be things created that we can’t even think about now,” Prof. Mason told The Final Call.

Blacks have always managed to survive, persevere, persist, and move forward, and will continue to advance forward as society moves into increasing automotive workplaces, said Ronald Marlow, vice president for Workforce Development with the National Urban League.

He feels a key will be overcoming challenges to general training.   For instance, he asked, how will folks start to plan for their future immediately and acquire the skill sets needed in a changing labor market?

“It is nowhere near too late to start to make that change, and this is where the Urban League can come into play,” said Mr. Marlow.   The non-partisan civil rights organization helps Blacks acquire job training and skill sets through its 90 affiliates in 36 states, including D.C., Mr. Marlow offered.

The National Urban League’s 2018 State of Black America Report indicated that in the vast majority of social media and technology companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce was Black, compared to Whites, who made up at least half.

The Urban League’s Workforce Development programs, such as its Urban Tech Jobs program helps prepare middle and high school students for education and jobs after high school, whether in information technology, certificate programs, or for 2- and 4-year degrees.

“I think that our destiny is more in our hands and control than we sometimes believe it to be.   While we can always complain and file charges when discrimination takes place, we gotta be in the game to even understand whether we will be discriminated or not and how we get in the game is really a question of how do we prepare ourselves, one? Two, how do our institutions that serve us help us prepare ourselves?” said Mr. Marlow.

“The future can be very exciting! It doesn’t have to be daunting.   It doesn’t have to be foreboding, and it definitely doesn’t have to be bleak, but it’s only true if we start to plan and execute today,” he added.