Black workers are more likely than their white peers to work in the service sector as cashiers, cooks, fast food workers, security guards, bus drivers and chauffeurs, according to the Charleston Chronicle. For instance, nearly 30 percent of the U.S.' 500,000 chauffeurs are black, the Chronicle reports.

Three new studies explore the opportunities afforded to black service workers, and the findings are grim. Taken together, the data suggest that not only is it harder for black people to find work in the service sector, but that those jobs are disappearing. And, that automation may eliminate them from the economy altogether. 

According to the Toronto Star, a recent study conducted by the University of Toronto's Janelle Douthwright found that black job seekers in the retail and service industries had a harder time landing jobs than their white peers.

In the study, Douthwright created four fictional female job applicants: two with black-sounding names (Khadija Nzeogwu and Tameeka Okwabi) and two with white-sounding names (Beth Elliot and Katie Foster). She gave one applicant in each of the racial groups a criminal record, and had all four of the fictional women apply to 64 retail and service jobs each.

The results showed that the white applicant with no criminal record received the most overall callbacks at 20, but the white applicant with a criminal record still received more callbacks (12) than the black applicant without a criminal record. That applicant received only seven callbacks. The black applicant with a criminal record only received one callback.

Photo: GIPHY

“We have a number of acts that protect us against discrimination, and many people think that because of that strong infrastructure discrimination is gone,” Lorne Foster, a professor in the Department of Equity Studies at York University, said about the study. “All of these implicit biases are automatic, they’re ambivalent, they’re ambiguous, and they’re much more dangerous than the old-fashioned prejudices and discrimination that used to exist because they go undetected but they have an equally destructive impact on people’s lives."

“It’s an invisible and tasteless poison, and it’s difficult to eliminate," he added.

Douthwright herself was surprised by the results. “I thought there was no way this would be true here in Toronto,” she said, saddened by what Foster calls society's "hidden biases."

Douthwright's study showed how hard it can be for a black job seeker to get a job, but another study looked at what happened to retail workers of all races after they'd been hired.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and found that retail workers lost the most jobs of any type of worker from November 2016 to November 2017. And not only that, but according to IWPR's report, female retail workers “shouldered the entirety of the job losses in retail trade,” while men actually saw gains.

IWPR has yet to break their findings down by race or age, but will do so next year, so we'll have more info about how black women were affected by retail cuts then.

What we do know now is how automation is poised to impact black service workers.

A recent report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies entitled "Race and Jobs at High Risk of Automation," found that automation from things like self-driving cars and food assembly robots could increase the black unemployment rate from the current 7.5 percent to more than 20 percent in the next 10 to 20 years.

The study's author found that currently “27 percent of African American workers are concentrated in 30 occupations at high risk of automation. By comparison, these 30 occupations account for 24 percent of all white workers and 20 percent of all Asian American workers." 

Although proponents of automation often argue that mechanization makes things safer and better for everyone, Dr. Kristen Broady, who authored the study, isn't so sure.

“While automation will create new types of jobs, the African American community faces a unique combination of well-documented challenges that make it particularly vulnerable in labor-market transitions,” Broady wrote. “These challenges include an average household net worth that is one tenth of whites, making periods without income particularly difficult.”

Still, all isn't lost. Broady's report found that if the government intervenes, automation could in fact be beneficial for black workers.

"Economic disruption can, if properly harnessed, create new opportunities that address long-standing social inequities. For example, strategic interventions by policymakers that increase connections between educators and employers, equip workers in African American and Latino communities with premium skills for new job opportunities, and provide pipelines to help them secure and succeed in these positions can help reduce racial disparities."