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The Role of People of Color in the Future Workforce

Latina woman

SOURCE: AP/Perry Baker

Macrina Castillo of Mexico is shown at her place of work, the Mundo de Musica Latina music store in Columbia, South Carolina.

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The demographics of our labor force are rapidly changing. The largest genera­tion of Americans—the Baby Boomer generation—is reaching retirement age, creating a need for more entrants into the workforce. At the same time, the overall population in the United States is changing, and people of color are contributing to these demographic trends and strengthening America’s economic future. Projections show that by 2030, the American workforce will need to fill 83 million replacement and new jobs. With a large number of jobs opening up due to workforce replacement and economic growth, people of color will play a key role in shaping the American workforce. It is not surprising that by 2030, 54 percent of new workers will be people of color. Today, a majority of babies born in the United States are children of color. Within three decades, America will have no clear racial or ethnic majority, and more than half of the population will be people of color. These changing demographics demonstrate the need for an agenda that prepares the workforce of the future economy.

Today and tomorrow’s workforce

In 2010, the workforce comprised of 154 million workers, 36 percent of whom were people of color. By 2030, nearly 83 million people will have entered the workforce, with more than two-thirds projected to replace retiring workers. The population that will replace aging Baby Boomers will be a combination of Hispanics, blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. In the past, whites have made up much of the growth in the workforce, but in the next two decades, their share is projected to decline. The share of Hispanic entrants will increase from 23.7 percent to 29.9 percent in the next two decades. Black people will account for 13 percent of entrants in the workforce, and Asians will account for 10.1 percent. Altogether, the share of people of color will be more than half of the workforce by 2030.

All net workforce growth will come from people of color

By 2030, most of the growth in the American workforce will be from groups in the Hispanic, black, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities that will continue to grow more quickly than the white population. The share of growth in the Hispanic/Latino workforce is expected to be the highest of all racial and ethnic groups at close to 78 percent. Asians and Pacific Islanders will account for 25 percent of total net growth, and blacks will comprise 17 percent. From 2010 to 2030, people of color will represent the largest share of growth, accounting for 120 percent of all net workforce growth. In contrast, the share of whites will decline and strikingly shift to a negative share, from 42.8 percent to -19.6 percent by 2030.

What is most striking about the changing workforce is the non-Hispanic white population‘s shift from the largest share in the 1990s to a negative share in the next decade. Meanwhile, the share of people of color to net workforce growth steadily rising, projected to reach more than 117 percent in the 2020s. Furthermore, the Hispanic share is projected to reach 77.8 percent of all growth that is expected in the next decade. By 2030, people of color will comprise the majority contributions to the labor force and are projected to account for virtually all of the growth.

Conclusion

The changing demographics in the future workforce will be vastly different than today. As Baby Boomers gradually exit the workforce, people of color will constitute the majority of the labor force. The Latino, African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American populations will account for virtually all of the net workforce growth and will play a key role in sustaining the economy. As America’s diversity increases, we must expand opportunities for all Americans to ensure that the nation maintains global economic competitiveness. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, the persistence of racial disparities poses real challenges to opportunity and upward mobility. The Center for American Progress and PolicyLink’s recently released book, All-In Nation: An America that Works for All, highlights the economic benefits associated with increasing diversity and outlines policy solutions to create a more equitable economy. Additionally, CAP’s recent All In Nation  diversity poll shows that the American public believes that critical investments in education and workforce development—along with improved work support benefits, asset building opportunities, and smart immigration reform—will ensure that our future workforce can access the best jobs and contribute to a strong American economy. Providing our diverse population with opportunities to reach their full potential will only make our nation stronger.

Angeline Vuong is a Project Manager for the Immigration and Progress 2050 teams at Center for American Progress.

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