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Latinx and the Digital Economy, During and After COVID

  • Publication: 
    New America
    Date: 
    August 14, 2020

    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:

    • Ensure economic security: When significant economic change disrupts people’s work, as is the case during the pandemic, we should look for ways to help them bounce back. In a Spring 2020 survey, nearly 60% of the Latino respondents who had reported loss of work or income also reported using up most of their savings and increasing their debt just to stay afloat. Organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Family Independence Initiative work to provide economic security in the form of portable benefits and cash assistance programs. Solutions such as these can not only help families maintain their financial position, but also acknowledge the humanity of the recipient, providing flexibility and dignity. These programs give families the self-determination to address their unique situations, providing economic stability, and by extension a foundation to pursue opportunities for upward mobility.
    • Shift hiring practices: Employers have a key role to play in the economic recovery process. A primary focus must be in shifting their hiring practices to focus on job skills, rather than exclusively college degrees. Google has taken the bold step to consider its non-degree career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles at the company. This is only one step in a series of strides corporate America must take to ensure that alternate pathways can create more equitable access to high-growth, high-paying jobs. Hiring is just the start, and it is crucial that employers remain committed to removing discriminatory practices and ensuring advancement and continual learning throughout one's career. This not only stands to benefit employers and employees, but the broader US economy. Organizations like [email protected] and its STARs framework, as well as Markle’s Rework America Alliance are examples of promising steps in this broader dialogue.
    • Double down on effective training programs: Latino workers are less than 18% of all workers, but make up 35% of those with no digital skills, and 20% of those with limited skills. Building the capacity of organizations to train Latinos with the right skills needed to effectively participate in the digital economy is essential. Organizations like the Hispanic Federation are working to strengthen the capacity of Latino-led and Latino-serving nonprofit organizations to provide career-aligned digital skills training to Latinos across the country, and ones like the YWCA USA are scaling workforce development and digital skills programs that are focused on getting women, including Latinas, on pathways to good jobs. Supporting organizations with proven programs, particularly those led by respected leaders of color who place racial justice at the forefront of their work, is another step in the right direction.

    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.

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