African American Men Should Be Very Worried about Self-Driving Vehicles

There is a great deal of excitement about self-driving or autonomous vehicles and how they will make travel safer and more efficient. What isn’t being discussed nearly as much is the impact of this technology on people who drive for a living. Many people should be worried about whether their jobs are about to be rendered obsolete. No group should be more worried than African American men.

In the report I co-authored, “Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work,” published by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, we estimated that there are about 4 million Americans who drive for a living. A lot of the autonomous-vehicle discussions have focused only on cars, but most people who drive for a living drive heavy trucks (e.g., 18-wheelers), delivery trucks, and buses. Autonomous-vehicle technology could lead to the end of car driving and truck driving as occupations. 

By race, no group relies more on driving occupations for work than African Americans. Blacks are overrepresented in the bus driver, truck driver (i.e., delivery truck and heavy truck), and taxi driver (and chauffeur) occupational categories. They are the most overrepresented group among bus drivers and truck drivers. Asian Americans are only slightly more overrepresented than African Americans as taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

Driving occupations are for the most part dominated by men. The African American overrepresentation in driving occupations is mainly due to a strong overrepresentation of black men. Black women have a strong presence as bus drivers however, and they too are overrepresented in driving occupations relative to women.

Black men should be especially worried about the rise of autonomous vehicles because not only are they overrepresented in these occupations, they tend to earn more in driving occupations than they do in non-driving occupations. Driving occupations are one of the few in which a black man without a college degree can obtain a job that pays fairly well. If these jobs go away, it will be difficult for black men to find jobs that pay as well. Black men also have the highest unemployment rate by race and gender. Even if new jobs are created as a result of autonomous vehicles, it is fair to wonder whether the discrimination against black men in our labor market will prevent black men from obtaining them.

Autonomous vehicles could begin eliminating driving jobs in as soon as 2 or 3 years. Now is the time for advocates to begin to push for policies that would enable drivers to smoothly transition from driving jobs to good non-driving jobs. We need to strengthen and modernize our unemployment insurance system; we need better and more affordable education and retraining systems for adults; and we need all levels of government to aggressively pursue full-employment polices so that there are good jobs available for all Americans. Although black men are likely to be hardest hit by the rise of autonomous vehicles, all other groups will be affected to varying degrees. There is tremendous opportunity for building a broad coalition to address the challenges that may be created by autonomous vehicles. Since black men will likely be the most negatively affected, it would be important for them to get organized, get active, and get to work building these activist coalitions.