Occupational segregation: All occupations and industries should be accessible to all workers.

Insights & Analyses

  • Nationwide, workers of color account for about 38 percent of the workforce, but they are underrepresented in many higher-paying jobs such as legal occupations, the sciences, management, business operations, and finance.
  • Women comprise nearly half (48 percent) of the workforce but are critical to the healthcare system, making up the vast majority of workers in healthcare support occupations (85 percent) and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations (75 percent). They are also highly overrepresented in office and administrative support, personal care and service, and education instruction and library occupations.
  • Immigrants comprise 17 percent of the workforce in the United States and are critical to the nation’s food supply accounting for 43 percent of workers in agricultural occupations.
  • Looking at detailed occupations within an occupational group reveals further and often starker patterns of segregation. For example, within healthcare support occupations, more than half (65 percent) of home health aides are people of color, while about three-quarters of physical therapist assistants and aides as well as veterinary assistants and lab animal caretakers are white.

Drivers of Inequity

Current-day patterns of occupational segregation in the United States are rooted in deep legacies of racist employment practices. The long-term employment of workers of color and immigrant workers in low-wage, low-quality jobs — factory work, mining, farming, domestic labor, and custodial and food services — is central to American labor history, as the social and political vulnerability of these workers made them easier to exploit. The concentration of people of color (particularly Black and Latinx workers) in more precarious industries is a practice that has persisted, even as the US economic base has shifted from agricultural to industrial to postindustrial over the past two centuries. Enduring patterns in housing segregation and educational inequity, along with exclusionary hiring and retention practices in some high-wage workplaces, continue to wall out many workers of color from lucrative sectors. Building an equitable labor market requires eliminating structural and systemic barriers to the best-compensated occupations, while simultaneously ensuring high standards of job quality for all workers.


Grow an equitable economy: Policies to reach full employment for all

Strategy in Action

Cross-sector partnership transforms health-care employment opportunities in Boston. Boston Healthcare Careers Consortium is a collaboration that convenes the workforce development sector, employers, training providers, and education institutions in healthcare to support job seekers and employees. The partnership facilitates real-time labor market information sharing and pathway development among stakeholders. The Healthcare Consortium in particular has grown to more than 50 active members since its inception in 2010, and it is nationally recognized for its employer-led model. Read more.

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