Jul 7, 2020 - Economy

Remote work’s digital divide exacerbates racial inequality at work

Illustration of people on WiFi symbols.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Remote work and remote learning look likely to continue through the end of the year or longer, potentially exacerbating inequalities in the workplace and at schools.

Why it matters: The coronavirus has laid bare how unequal access to technology divides us. And the longer-term implementation of telecommuting could make these issues, which disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic Americans, much worse.

  • Working from home typically calls for access to a computer, internet speedy enough to handle video calls, and space to work without distractions — and there's a clear racial divide when it comes to having these things.

By the numbers: Per a 2019 report from Pew Research Center, 58% of Black adults and 57% of Hispanic adults have a laptop or desktop computer, compared with 82% of white adults.

  • 66% of Black adults and 61% of Hispanic adults have broadband access at home. Among white adults, the share is 79%.
  • According to a recent survey from WayUp, Black and Hispanic job applicants are 145% more likely than their white counterparts to be concerned about their ability to do a job remotely.
  • "Census data shows that Black households have 20% more people and Hispanic households have 80% more people compared to White households, which can result in concerns about background noise, distractions, as well as the basic concern about lack of space," CNBC's Kelsey Johnson reports.

The bottom line: The growing list of companies — led by Silicon Valley tech giants — that are considering extending remote work beyond the end of the pandemic will have to consider how those policies could chip away at diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Go deeper: Second-tier cities vie for telecommuters

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