Research Finds More Than 6 Million Black Workers Have the Skills for Higher-Wage Work

Opportunity@Work cites ‘unnecessary’ degree requirements as a barrier for Black workers in the U.S. today

WASHINGTON D.C., June 17, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Research conducted by Opportunity@Work shows that the largest group of Black workers active in the U.S. labor market are STARs — workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes other than a four-year degree. These workers have developed in-demand skills on-the-job or through other alternative routes such as community college, workforce training, bootcamps, certificate programs or military service. They represent a pool of talent with the capabilities to perform successfully across industries, yet are often screened out when employers use unnecessary or arbitrary four-year degree requirements. 

Here are three key takeaways from the research: 

  • There are 10 million Black STARs active in today’s workforce, and they make up a 62% majority of the 16 million Black workers active today. 
  • 6.2 million Black STARs (64%) have the skills necessary for higher-wage work that pays at least 50% more than their current job.  Thousands of workers have made these exact transitions, demonstrating the feasibility of these moves. 
  • Despite their skills, Black STARs experience less upward mobility than their white counterparts. Our data shows that Black STARs are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and, while they have relative success in transitioning to middle wage jobs, they reach high wage destination jobs at roughly half the rate of white STARs.

“Companies seeking to build a more inclusive workforce and equitable economy for Black workers would benefit by understanding that nonessential degree requirements aren’t race-neutral,” said Byron Auguste, CEO and co-founder of Opportunity@Work. “In fact, if employers remove arbitrary degree screens from their ‘hiring systems,’ they can tap into a talent pool of more than 10 million Black STARs, over 6 million of whom already have in-demand skills for jobs paying at least 50% more than the jobs they do now. If the goal is to create a more equitable economy - that goal will require a more equitable system where Black STARs can get hired, work, and earn based on their skills.”

As employers adjust to the economic and labor challenges in the wake of the pandemic, there’s an opportunity to critically assess hiring practices. Black STARs bring the skills necessary to thrive in critical roles, yet are often blocked by unnecessary four-year degree requirements. To learn more and see sources for this data, visit


About Opportunity@Work

Opportunity@Work is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization uniting companies, workforce development partners and philanthropists in a movement to increase career opportunities for the more than 70 million adults in the U.S. who do not have a four-year college degree but are Skilled Through Alternative Routes - or as we call them “STARs.”

For the latest Opportunity@Work news and information, visit the Opportunity@Work Media Center.


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