Trump’s Debate Reference to ‘Black jobs’ Highlights Distortions but Also Persistent Disparities 

Donal Trump and President Joe Biden at 2024 Presidential Debate
July 1, 2024

During last week’s debate, former President Trump disparaged President Biden’s immigration policies by referring to how immigrants supposedly take away “Black jobs” and “Hispanic jobs.” “His big kill on the Black people is the millions of people that he’s allowed to come in through the border,” Trump said. “They’re taking Black jobs now — and it could be 18, it could be 19 and even 20 million people. They’re taking Black jobs, and they’re taking Hispanic jobs.”

There were several problems with Trump’s assertion. First, as noted in a barrage of social media responses, the former president appeared to suggest that Black Americans typically hold menial, subservient jobs of the sort sought after by many undocumented immigrants. The New York Times accurately branded this premise “reductive and racist.” In fact, nearly half of all Black workers hold office, managerial, and white collar jobs. Additionally, unemployment rates remain near historic lows and wages are near record highs for Black Americans. 

Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that immigrant workers are displacing U.S.-born workers. A 2020 Pew Research Center study found “Americans generally agree that immigrants – whether undocumented or living legally in the country – mostly do not work in jobs that U.S. citizens want, with a majority saying so across racial and ethnic groups and among both political parties.”

That said, in the C-suites of major companies and in ownership positions in financial services – where key decisions are made about capital flows in our economy – there is still a marked underrepresentation of Black men and women. Only eight Black CEOs lead Fortune 500 companies. In the asset management field, an industry our Center has studied, Black-owned firms control just about 11% of the already-small percentage of U.S.-based assets – less than 2% – managed by women- and minority-owned firms combined. 

One obstacle to participation in the upper echelons of corporate America is the sparseness of the sort of personal networks for Black executives that are so important in the selection of top corporate leadership and outside investment advisers. Companies tend to focus diversity efforts on hiring rather than on retention and promotion at the highest levels. Ariel Investment founder and CEO John Rogers, Jr, has noted that CEOs “invariably talk about using an African- American firm when they construct a new building” or are procuring services like catering, maintenance, or security, but fail to consider hiring Black-owned firms when seeking professional services, like money management, technology consulting, or legal services. 

Rogers’ observation aligns with our Center’s experience working with universities to encourage greater use of women- and minority-owned asset management firms. While many universities tout initiatives promoting diversity in staff hiring and procurement, they are less forthcoming about the diversity of the asset managers for their significant endowments. 

However, some, like the University of Chicago, are implementing creative solutions for addressing barriers for professional firms owned by Black Americans and members of other minority groups. This year, the University of Chicago marked the 15th year of its annual Professional Services Symposium, which was created to address the university’s lack of exposure to women and minority-owned businesses in high-margin industries. By bringing more diversely owned businesses into the university’s network, the event benefits both those businesses and the school, which may have otherwise missed those talented firms. 

Trump’s derogatory and misleading comment on Thursday night provided a reminder of the ongoing need for strategic actions aimed at overcoming obstacles to equal opportunity in the top tier of the economy. We cannot afford to allow careless language to go unchecked when it risks perpetuating harmful misconceptions about the types of jobs held by Black men and women. Such inaccuracies not only reinforce damaging, unjust stereotypes but also undermine efforts to promote diversity and inclusion at all economic levels. To foster genuine change, companies and legislators must actively champion initiatives – like the efforts at the University of Chicago – that dismantle systemic barriers and ensure equitable representation in decision-making roles across industries.


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