The Black and Brown revolution is coming.
People of color will be a majority of the American working class by 2032, according to a new study released by the Washington D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI). That is just 16 years from now, or four presidential elections away. Fifty years ago this working class population shift would have been impossible for some people to imagine. Now a Black and Brown America is becoming everyone’s reality. Let that truth sink in for a second.
With people of color soon dominating the working class, what does this mean for the traditional imagery of the “iconic American” worker?
The report’s author, Valerie Wilson, says the image and policies must shift.
“It is important to realize that the working class is more diverse than stereotypical images of white men in blue collar jobs suggest,” says Wilson, an economist and director of the Project on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. “While policies aimed at raising living standards for the working class are often conflated with policies to raise living standards for white workers without college degrees, the reality is that the working class is increasingly people of color, and our policies should reflect that.”
In short, the working class is far more diverse and vibrant than the image of a disgruntled Donald Trump supporter from Northeast Ohio that we have been steadily fed by mainstream media. The next president of America, politicians and pundits need to recognize this sea change and start to act accordingly with tangible policies that benefit and protect black and brown workers.
For the foreseeable future, Latinos and African Americans will remain the two largest minority groups in the U.S. By 2043, Latinos will be 26.6 percent of the working-age population while African Americans will be just over 13 percent. This is significant for the demographic transition of the working class because members of these two groups are also the least likely, according to some research, to have a four-year college degree. In 2013, only 13 percent of Latinos and 21.2 percent of African Americans in the labor force had a bachelor’s degree.
Furthermore, many Black and Brown workers find themselves in a very difficult and vulnerable position. While working harder year after year, very little has been gained for the working class. Productivity (a measure of the increased economic value of what American workers produce) in the country has grown by nearly 63 percent between 1979 and 2014, but Black male workers during that same time period have seen their wages drop by more than 7 percent.
Even more damaging for Black workers is the fact that much of the job creation that politicians tout as proof of recovery from the Great Recession is low-wage. Over the last 40 years a second EPI report found that compensation for the vast majority of workers in the U.S. has either stagnated or declined, leaving more and more people in low-wage jobs that pay too little and offer too few benefits. Across the country 8.2 million African American workers are employed in jobs that pay under $15 an hour: that’s roughly 53 percent of all African American workers.
Let’s break this down even more and look at a few key states. In Florida, just over 60 percent of Blacks make less than $15 an hour. In Georgia, it is just over 54 percent. In the Northeast it is not so much better with Pennsylvania at 50.5 percent, Massachusetts at 46.3 and New York at 41.2 percent. Overall in 32 states, more than 50 percent of African American workers earn under $15 an hour.
This is a crisis in our community.