Photograph by Thomas Barwick via Getty Images
By Ellen McGirt
Updated: May 7, 2018 1:16 PM ET

On Friday, the National Urban League published its annual State of Black America report, and there is a much to parse for policymakers and voters alike. But this year, a new analysis of inequality in digital life puts employers in the tech sector back in the hot seat.

First, the numbers.

The report uses a benchmark called the Equality Index, based on nationally collected data from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Education Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau. It attempts to measure full equality with white people in the areas of economics, health, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year, the equality index for black people stands at 72.5 percent—unchanged from last year. For Hispanics, the number is 79.3%, up from 2017’s 78.5%. So, if the full promise of American life were a pie, brown and black people would be missing a hefty slice.

The data that make up the index captures the shifting experiences of people of color in fascinating ways. This year, the increase in the index for Hispanics was driven largely by an increase in civic engagement and voter participation in the aftermath of the 2016 election. That, and small gains in education, offsets losses in the social justice category.

For black folks, the apparent lack of progress masked one important improvement in the median household income gap this year, which brought black family incomes closer to white ones by one percentage point, or 61%. That might not sound like much, but if you have to pay more for broadband than your white peers (see below), it helps.

This year’s report includes a stand-alone analysis called the Digital Inclusion Index, which uses the same methodology as the main report, but measures digital equality in three areas: Digital skills and occupations (35% of total), digital access (35% of total), and digital policy (30% of total).

The findings will not surprise you. From the report:

Racial diversity in social media and technology companies is an area where the equality gap is starkly wider. As reported in the Digital Inclusion Index, in the vast majority of companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American. By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.

Education is partly a factor. For example, HBCUs don’t receive the funding that primarily white institutions do. And access to affordable broadband varies – in some cities where people of color are in the minority, the report shows that they pay more than their white counterparts for broadband. But for the most part, the report finds that people of color have largely bridged the technology gap in mobile, computer, and social media usage, which is great news. Yet, the companies whose products they use and platforms they contribute to don’t see them as potential employees.

It’s the skills and occupations piece that really worries the experts. At a time when the world is literally being transformed by technological innovation, shutting out talent of color will drive the equality numbers in the wrong direction.

“The digital and technological revolution is the axis on which the economy is spinning now,” Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League (NUL), told The Root. “It is a transformation of epic proportions.”

But Michael Harriot, columnist for The Root is skeptical that anything is going to change. “Morial and the NUL are intent on convincing tech companies to partner with HBCUs to discover the wealth of talent in these institutions,” he writes. “The organization also wants to stress the necessity of workforce diversity to these companies.” It’s going to be an interesting exercise. “The facts are inescapable: Tech companies don’t hire black people,” he says.

 

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