Six Million Black Workers Have the Skills to Earn a Significantly Higher Wage Right Now

There are more than 70 million STARs, workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, in our labor market. These are workers with a high school diploma and without a college degree. They include millions of Black STARs who have skills employers can leverage immediately in higher value work.

Black STARs are the Largest Group of Black Workers.

Of the 16 million Black workers active in the U.S. labor market, 10 million are STARs. They developed their skills most commonly on the job, but also through routes including community college, bootcamps and online training programs. They occupy professions ranging from Carpenters to Financial Managers to Chief Executives to Registered Nurses.

Black Workers Active in the U.S. Labor Market

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16.4 million Black workers represent 12% of the 142 million active workers in the U.S. Labor force
5.2 million Black workers with BAs or higher levels of educational attainment represent 32% of the Black workforce.
10.1 million Black STARs represent 62% of the Black workforce

Black STARs have different paths to higher wage work.

We see almost 200,000 Shining Black STARs in high wage jobs, who demonstrate it is possible to gain skills through alternative routes and perform high value work.1 There are 6.2 million Rising STARs who have skills, based on their current role, to transition to jobs that on average pay 70% more than what they are currently earning. There are 3.3 million Black Forming STARs who do not have skills today (based on their current job) to transition to a job that would pay much more than they earn now. These Forming STARs need support to gain skills that will open job opportunities.

These three groups are defined in our Reach for the STARs report and Searching for STARs paper published in the NBER.

Three Groups of STARs

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Shining STARs

STARs who are in high wage roles today

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Rising STARs

STARs who have the skills to transition to higher wage work today

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Forming STARs

STARs who have skills but not for significant wage gain

*It is worth emphasizing that these groups do not include the 32% of Black workers with a BA or higher level of educational attainment. Their experience is well documented elsewhere.2

1 We define high wage to be jobs that pay more than 2 times the median wage in their geographic region. Nationally, this median is greater than $77,500.

2 Jhacova Williams, “Confederate Streets and Black-White Labor Market Differentials.” Working Paper (Clemson University, 2019); Rodney J. Andrews and others, “Location Matters: Historical Racial Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility,” Economics Letters 158 (2017): 67–72. Ellora Derenencourt, “Can You Move to Opportunity? Evidence from the Great Migration.” Working Paper (Harvard University, 2019). Bradley Hardy, Trevon D. Logan, and John Parman, “The Historical Role of Race and Policy for Regional Inequality.” In Jay Shambaugh and Ryan Nunn, eds., Placed Based Policies for Shared Economic Growth (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 2018).

Black STARs have in-demand skills.

These two charts illustrate the transferability of skills to higher wage roles.

Consider a Customer Service Representative (first chart, left side). Active listening, speaking, and reading comprehension are among the critical skills for this role and they map closely to skills for an HR Specialist role (first chart, right side), which earns on average, 75% more per hour.3 Approximately 260,000 Black STARs are in Customer Service Representative roles and could make this transition.

Similarly, 540,000 Black STARs work as Nursing, Psychiatric and Home Health Aides, deploying skills including service orientation, social perceptiveness, and active listening. These skills are similar to those of an Occupational Therapy Aide, who on average, makes 65% more.

3 Opportunity@Work analysis of 2010-2019 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey

An Example: Two Low-Wage Jobs have Strikingly Similar Skills to Higher-Wage Jobs

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1.8 million Black workers are in Office and Administrative support roles like Customer Service Representative and 1.7 million Black workers are in Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations and Healthcare Support Occupations, like Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides.

Skills are measured on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of their importance to the role. See O*NET for more details.

Over 6 million Black STARs have skills to transition to higher wage work today.

We call these workers Rising STARs to signal their potential for mobility. Our analysis of skills and job transitions shows multiple pathways for Rising STARs from lower wage origin jobs to higher wage destination jobs. These destination jobs, on average, pay 70% more than their current wages.

These charts illustrate potential transitions based on skills similarity4 like the two jobs profiled above. For example, the Customer Service Representative is well positioned to become a Manager, Sales, Representative, or Payroll Clerk. The Nursing Aide also has paths to multiple similar but higher paying jobs.

Thousands of workers have made these exact transitions, demonstrating the feasibility of these moves but fewer Black workers make these transitions than white workers. The purple bar illustrates the drop off in the representation of Black workers in these roles.

4 The skills similarity is a measure of the Euclidean distance between the two occupations. See this NBER Working paper for more information about this measure.

Common Occupational Transitions, Hourly Wages and Proportion of Black Workers in each Occupation (2015-2019)

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*These jobs have high skill similarity and workers have made these transitions frequently (3000 - 150,000 times over the past 10 years).

What can you do?

As corporate leaders and policy makers consider responses to structural racism and inequality, it is critical to recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Learn what is happening in your state and industry and take appropriate measures.

Eliminate BA degrees from job requirements to open doors to the 10 million Black STARs who have developed skills through alternative routes.

Source for and design jobs to facilitate transitions for 6.2 million Black Rising STARs who already have in-demand skills.

Provide training, support, and on-ramps for the 3.3 million Forming STARs stuck in their current positions.

Learn from the STARs in your organization. They have a lived experience to inform your talent practices.

A State Level look at Hidden Black Talent