Advancing Workforce Equity In Columbus

A Blueprint For Action

Published on May 16, 2022

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Tim Hatton

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Columbus, Ohio, has one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, but new research shows that its prosperity is limited by racial inequity. In 2018 alone, racial economic exclusion cost Columbus about $10 billion in unrealized GDP.

In studying the current state of the Columbus workforce, Lightcast data show that workers of color tend to be overrepresented in lower paying occupational groups, while white workers are overrepresented in higher paying professions. 

“Occupational segregation”—a term for when people of color are disproportionately employed in low-paying jobs—prevents the region from realizing its full economic potential. A new report, Advancing Workforce Equity in Columbus: A Blueprint for Action, uses the latest labor market statistics from Lightcast and others to show the current state of racial equity in the Columbus-area workforce and also presents data-driven solutions to find a way forward.

The report comes from the National Equity Atlas, which is an ongoing collaboration between PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, funded by JPMorgan Chase. The report was produced in partnership with Lightcast, One Columbus, and the Workforce Innovation Center

The collaboration is designed to demonstrate how local economic leaders can enable their communities to achieve greater economic prosperity through a more equitable workforce. That starts with understanding the challenges currently facing the job market for people of color. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

As the workforce grows more diverse, racial inequity carries mounting economic costs

More people of color are joining the workforce, but since they are more often in jobs that pay less, the prosperity shared by the overall job market is stagnating. If racial equity in pay were achieved through broader distribution of workers of color in good, stable jobs, the average annual income of Latinx adults would be 59 percent higher, while the average annual income of Black adults would increase by 68 percent.

The structure of the regional economy and evolving labor market demand reinforce racial gaps in employment and wages

Workers of color in Columbus are concentrated in lower-paying occupational groups, while white workers are overrepresented in higher-paying professions. Occupational segregation also extends to “future-ready” jobs (defined by our data as being stable, automation-resistant, and with wages that can support a family). While the Columbus region has a shortage of these jobs overall, particularly at the entry level, people of color are even less likely to have them. 

The Covid-19 pandemic is compounding pre-existing racial inequities and economic inequality

In the years since the Covid-19 pandemic first disrupted the economy, its recovery has been unevenly distributed among racial groups. In August 2021, the unemployment rate for white workers in central Ohio stabilized at around 5%, but unemployment for Black workers was near 15%. Job displacement and automation, which the pandemic accelerated, is also more likely to affect Black and Latinx workers than white workers (by 25% and 20%, respectively).

To address those challenges the report also presents several potential strategies and solutions, driven by an understanding of the community and Lightcast data that show how workers can advance to better jobs based on many of the skills they already have. 

The report recommends the following for leaders and employers:

  1. Center racial equity, community voice, and neighborhood needs in the workforce development system, and unify economic development and workforce development strategies.

  2. Lean into regional partnerships to break silos in workforce development.

  3. Bring jobs to the people and people to the jobs.

  4. Engage employers to adopt best practices in hiring, retaining, and promoting workers of color.

  5. Dramatically expand apprenticeships, and develop targeted strategies to support people of color through these programs.

  6. Cater services to immigrant workers and workers for whom English is a second language.

  7. Expand on career pathways that start with entry-level positions in target sectors proven to have good employment prospects.

The full Advancing Workforce Equity report on Columbus is available here. It is the sixth in a series of nine reports featured in the project from the National Equity Atlas, and the full set is available here. For more on local labor market data and analytics for economic development, learn more about the newly-updated Developer tool from Lightcast.