Black History Month is a celebration of the contributions of Black Americans, but it’s also a reminder of how far we have to go–the gap in equity between what is and what might be.
And Lightcast research has put a number on the size of one specific gap: the United States economy would be $2.3 trillion richer if people of color had good jobs at the same rate as white Americans.
In a series of reports for the National Equity Atlas’ Advancing Workforce Equity project in 2020-22, Lightcast data was used to examine the longstanding racial gap in employment opportunities, and what it costs communities. If people of color had good jobs at the same rate as whites, what would that mean to local economies?
A series of reports estimated the economic impact of the good jobs gap in selected metro areas around the country. Each report was done in partnership with local organizations and funding from JP Morgan Chase.
Nationally, the research estimated that the US economy would have been $2.3 trillion richer in 2018 if people of color had good jobs as whites–”good jobs” being defined as making $15 an hour or more, stable, and unlikely to be automated. Almost 8 in 10 white Americans made $15 per hour or more, compared to 63% of US-born Blacks. Gains have been made in the last few years, but Black and Latinx workers still lag in wages.
The regional reports released through 2022 showed how significant the economic impact could be by region. If the metro areas examined had closed the equity gap, the overall gain would have been:
$10 billion a year in Columbus, Ohio;
$9.5 billion in Nashville;
$28 billion in Detroit;
$33 billion in Seattle;
$45 billion in Boston;
$115 billion in Dallas and Collin counties in Texas;
$136 billion in Chicago;
And $348 billion a year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But how can communities close this workplace equity gap? The reports were used to spark local discussions by community leaders, and the answers would be different depending on the local economy. Some of the strategies include:
Bringing more workers of color into apprenticeships and similar programs to open up more occupations;
Using skills-based hiring and promotion to get around the barriers imposed by requiring degrees; and
Investment in accessible childcare, affordable housing, and transportation options to remove barriers from that make it harder for lower-income workers to get better jobs and more education.
The equity gap in employment is a lost opportunity for everyone, not just people of color. These figures represent trillions of dollars that could have been spent on buying goods and services that create more jobs across the economy. That’s why providing better opportunities and stronger career pathways increase prosperity for everyone.