At present, around 40% of Americans over the age of 65 struggle with at least one disability. While many of those seniors are no longer in the workforce due to their age, here’s an even more troubling trend: A recent study has found that minority workers, specifically African-American men and Latino immigrants, are particularly prone to sustaining workplace injuries and subsequent disabilities.
Conducted out of the University of Southern California, the study’s researchers analyzed data from nearly 11.8 million people taken from the American Community Survey from 2006-2013 and the Survey of Income and Program Participation in 1996, 2001, 2004, and 2008. The results showed that foreign-born Latino males between the ages of 18 to 64 had the highest average rate of workplace injuries, accounting for 13.7 of every 1,000 employees. At more than 12 out of every 1,000 workers, African-American men had the second-highest rate of workplace injuries; finally, Latino men born in the U.S. accounted for almost 12 injured workers out of every 1,000.
In comparison, workers of other ethnicities had an injury rate of about 11 per 1,000 workers; white men came in at 11.8, and Asian Americans at 10.
Even when researchers accounted for demographic location and education, minority worker risk was still higher. In a press release, lead study author, Seth Seabury, noted, “Disparities in economic opportunities for minorities lead them to take more hazardous jobs that raise their risk of injury and disability.”
These risks are especially problematic for older workers, as a higher risk of injury in the workplace correlates to a higher disability risk. Among workers aged 50-64, African-American males have a 4.4% rate of disability originating from the workplace. Foreign-born Latino workers had a 4.2% disability risk, with Asian Americans making the jump to 4%. Native-born Latino employees had a 3.5% risk of disability, while white workers had the lowest work-related disability rate of just 2.5%.
Ethnic discrimination within the workplace could also play a role in these increased rates of dangerous conditions. Minority workers may be more likely to be assigned to hazardous sites on the job, and employers may be using discriminatory hiring and promotion practices for especially risky work. And while white and Asian females had the lowest rates of reported injuries, by far, this may also indicate a lack of opportunity for jobs, rather than superior workplace safety.
Ultimately, the exact causes of the discrepancy in injuries may be impossible to determine, but the discrepancy itself is quite clear. The study’s authors stress that work site regulations need to be enforced for the safety of all workers. In addition, the authors write that policymakers should be diligent about evaluating whether employers are assigning dangerous tasks to minority workers in a disproportionate manner.