Automation Nation and the Latino Worker: What’s at Stake?

The anti-immigrant sentiment that increased after 9-11 and is now at a fever pitch in the Trump era has made driving while Latino in the U.S. an increasingly perilous proposition. Stories like that of Marcelino who was pulled over under the pretext of rolling through a stop sign in suburban Atlanta and then arrested, detained, and deported to Mexico or that of Latino drivers in Fresno, Ca who complained of being unfairly stopped and their cars impounded are becoming increasingly common.

Now comes the news that driving while Latino could soon be a thing of the past. For several years technology firms and auto companies have been testing driverless car technology with the intention of placing these vehicles on the road in less than a decade. At first blush, this type of technology may seem like a solution to one of the great civil rights challenges of our time. Latinos might ask: If I’m not driving, then they can’t stop me, right?

Yet, the advent of fully autonomous vehicles brings a different set of concerns for Latinos, particularly those who make their living driving delivery and heavy trucks, buses, taxis, and chauffeured cars.

Curious about how autonomous vehicles might affect U.S. workers, my organization, the Center for Global Policy Solutions, conducted a recently released study: Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work.

We found that Whites comprise the largest number of our nation’s drivers and would be especially vulnerable to job loss in the event of a rapid transition to autonomous vehicle technology. Nevertheless, with 3.25 percent of Latino workers employed in driving jobs compared to 2.85 percent of all workers in these jobs, Latinos would lose a greater than average share of jobs under conditions of rapid automation.

Additionally, Latinos would lose good paying jobs if driving occupations are rapidly automated since Latino drivers receive a “driving premium” from these jobs; earning a median annual wage that is more than $5,800 higher in real wages than for non-driving jobs. Their wage premium is higher than those earned by blacks ($2,484), American Indians ($1,991), and Whites who actually earn less from driving jobs (- $6,425) than they do from non-driving jobs.

Latinos living in certain states would also experience increased vulnerabilities. For example, places where the largest numbers of Latinos reside, states like California, Texas, New York and Florida, also have the largest number of workers in driving jobs and would experience significant job loss. Additionally, Latinos living in Midwestern and Southern states like Mississippi, Wyoming, West Virginia, North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, and Arkansas would be disproportionately harmed primarily because workers in these states are both overrepresented in the driving industry and earn a driving premium from these jobs.

Although men of all races and ethnicities dominate all categories of driving jobs and receive much higher wages, earning 64 percent more than women in these positions, a high number of Latino men depend on driving jobs and they are especially prevalent among delivery drivers and heavy truck drivers. If these jobs disappeared due to a rapid transition to autonomous vehicles, Latino families—whose households are predominantly headed by male breadwinners—would experience great economic pain.

So while a rapid shift to autonomous vehicles may have net positive impact on civil liberties for Latinos, the resulting job loss would have a disproportionately negative economic impact on Latino workers, families, and communities.

In light of this possibility, it will be important for Latino voters and organizations to advocate for a stronger social safety net that includes easy access to quality retraining programs, apprenticeships, and affordable post-secondary education opportunities that can align their skills with available jobs or entrepreneurship programs that can actually spur the creation of sustainable businesses.

Expanding important social insurance programs like Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Social Security will also be vital for preventing undue hardship on displaced workers and their families. Indeed, if moderate to liberal estimates of projected job losses are likely (a very plausible assessment given data from technology corporations themselves), Social Security should be expanded to accommodate a progressive basic income (PBI) program. A PBI would insure workers against the risk of automation-triggered job loss and be progressively scaled to correspond to estimates of the worker’s pre-job loss income in an effort to protect low-income households from economic insecurity. The PBI would augment, not replace, Social Security’s existing benefits framework for retirees, the disabled, and the survivors of deceased workers.

In sum, Latinos have a significant stake in the automation debate and its likely impact on the future of work in America. Given that experts predict sizable job losses from automation in industries beyond driving jobs, it will be important for Latino communities to understand and prepare for the possibility of coming labor market disruptions.

Maya Rockeymoore

Maya Rockeymoore

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is Founder and CEO of Global Policy Solutions LLC, a social change strategy firm and a certified B Corporation, and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a 501c3 think tank and action organization dedicated to driving society toward inclusion.
Maya Rockeymoore

Latest posts by Maya Rockeymoore (see all)