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In the coming decade, the share of the workforce that is Latino is projected to increase more than that of any other race or ethnic group, from 17.5 percent in 2018 to 20.9 percent in 2028. Yet in the middle of this projected growth, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated structural shifts in the economy, many of which are likely here to stay. Shifts such as the move to a more digital economy, including automation of labor operations, the growth of remote work, and the increased need for distance learning. While these changes might be productive in the long term, how do we acknowledge the disruptions they are currently creating for Latino communities, and leverage them to build a digital economy with more equitable opportunity?
To start, we need to look at a few core truths. About 59% of Latinos live in households that have experienced job loss or pay cuts due to the coronavirus outbreak, compared to 43% of U.S. adults. The situation is particularly bleak for Latinas, who have experienced a steeper decline in employment (‑21%) during the pandemic compared to other population segments.
We also know the road towards meaningful employment is often strewn with unnecessary hurdles that reinforce the status quo. Less than a quarter of Latino adults have earned some form of a college degree, compared to nearly half of white adults. Yet trends like degree inflation—placing nonessential degree requirements on roles—have been shown to be prevalent in hiring practices, often disproportionately preventing access to Latinos and other minorities. This reality is augmented by the pandemic: workers without any college education are less likely to be able to work remotely and more likely to have lost their jobs, when compared to their college educated counterparts.
With a vast majority of all new jobs requiring medium-level digital skills or higher, preparing Latino workers for the digital economy has gone from a distant objective to an immediate imperative. Latino workers need support not only to get through today’s unemployment challenges, but also to put themselves on a better trajectory for the future. As we begin to build a more equitable economy, there are a few tactics we must prioritize to ensure inclusivity and equity:
Inequality is a result of broken policies and systemic barriers, with those in the margins of societal power and influence suffering most. That’s why it is imperative that we work collectively to ensure that opportunities created by the digital economy are truly available to all. It’s up to all of us—across public, private, and nonprofit sectors—to design a society that is more inclusive, that caters not just to the powerful, but to the marginalized. We have an opportunity to build anew, and in the process, to ensure that we create a more inclusive and just society with accessible job-training solutions.
It is worth remembering that across our history, whenever we have made the economy more inclusive, we have also made its underpinnings stronger and our society more prosperous. As we continue to rebuild in a post-pandemic world, I’m hopeful that through our intentionality and resolve, we’ll be able to design an economy that works for everyone.