Race, Labor, and the Future of Work

Artificial Intelligence and Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


Ifeoma Ajunwa


Oxford Handbook of Race and Law, Emily Houh, Khiara Bridges, Devon Carbado, eds, forthcoming


As automation and globalization transform the labor market, the need for labor protection for racial minorities remains a concern. Emerging artificial intelligence (AI) systems may worsen labor inequalities.

Policy Relevance

Policymakers should protect vulnerable workers of color from the effect of new technologies on the labor market.

Main Points

  • Many punitive laws passed from the 1970s to the 1990s enable the mass incarceration of young Black and LatinX men; incarceration delays their entry into the labor market and limits their opportunities.
  • Many gig economy workers are people of color; because gig workers are designated as independent contractors, they do not enjoy the same labor protections as counterparts in traditional industries.
  • Hiring algorithms can identify candidates who would help to increase diversity in the workface, but the same technologies would also support unlawful employment discrimination.
  • Gig work platforms enable tech companies to hire workers anywhere in the world to monitor platform content; however, this could create a global class of marginalized workers who have no job security or benefits.
  • Many Black and Hispanic female workers work in jobs considered the most likely to be automated; labor automation will create large unemployment disparities.
  • Policymakers should offer greater legal protection to ensure that workers are adequately compensated for their labor and protected; expanded protection should include:
    • Labor rights for prison workers.
    • Labor protection for immigrants and "gig" workers.
    • Stronger protection for all workers.

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