How Crypto Can Power the Future of Work for People of Color

This post is part of CoinDesk's Black History Month series.

AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2022 at 2:37 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:05 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2022 at 2:37 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 6:05 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2022 at 2:37 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 6:05 p.m. UTCLayer 2

In the United States, an estimated 63 million Americans are unbanked, underbanked or lack access to the traditional financial system. That is a stain on our democracy and economic structure. Today, urban, rural and native communities that continue to be locked out of centralized finance are looking to cryptocurrencies as a pathway to economic empowerment.

Recent data shows that Black and Latinx communities are driving national mainstream adoption. A Harvard-Harris poll noted that “while only 11% of white Americans report owning cryptos, 23% of Black Americans and 17% of Hispanic Americans own such assets.”

This op-ed is part of CoinDesk’s Black History Month series. Cleve Mesidor is an adviser to the Blockchain Association and leads the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain. She previously worked in Congress and served as a presidential appointee in the Obama Administration.

The more options individuals have, the more inclusive money becomes.

This is a positive trend, but it also signals a greater need for financial literacy and skills training. The rising interest in new technological instruments is an opportunity to prepare key demographics for the next-gen workforce. Federal, state and local governments must be more proactive when it comes to future-of-work strategies to position historically disadvantaged groups to compete in the global innovation economy and foster digital equity.

Black and brown communities see the value of a decentralized Web 3 that provides greater protections for users. Creative industries are leveraging non-fungible tokens (NFT) to fuel today’s more diverse, more entrepreneurial marketplace.

Need for training

Seizing on the momentum around cryptocurrencies, we should invest in training, given there are various jobs in emerging technologies that do not require coding experience or a college degree. Consumer enthusiasm in the growth of the digital asset economy has already resulted in non-technical individuals acquiring new skills.

Injecting blockchain and cryptocurrency into the future-of-work toolbox is as common sense as the government working to expand access to economic opportunity. We must do everything at our disposal to dismantle barriers, build an inclusive innovation workforce, and promote entrepreneurship to spur the nation’s economy.

Emerging technologies offer alternatives to tackle financial exclusion and empower individuals to take control of their financial future. Already, fintech platforms are opening access to employees who do not have traditional bank accounts. In 2020, Square (now Block) launched a platform that enabled consumers to deposit their COVID-19 stimulus checks into their Cash App accounts to purchase bitcoin.

Paychecks for crypto

We should encourage employers to allow employees to direct deposit portions of their paycheck into cryptocurrency accounts. It may be too early to directly pay people in cryptocurrencies. Even the mayors of Miami and New York City faced challenges after announcing they wanted to be paid in bitcoin. America's working class also want options, and direct deposit can be a start. Stablecoin companies like Circle are exploring products and services that could make this future of work prospect a reality.

As adoption among communities of color deepens, there will be greater demand for trusted crypto-specific solutions that could be linked to a stablecoin to offset concerns around price fluctuations of crypto markets. The nation’s leaders need to be more intentional about tackling financial inequity and must consider decentralized options.

A federal mandate could be helpful. In November, U.S. senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) sent a letter to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen and Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo urging the creation of a Presidential Commission on Financial Inclusion – a national, interagency financial inclusion strategy with the goal of providing all people with the ability to access, utilize, and reap the benefits of financial products and services.

Infrastructure bill

The federal government should also show flexibility with the implementation of bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Federal grants are often structured for traditional, centralized businesses and innovators and entrepreneurs leveraging emerging technologies often do not qualify because the requirements are so hard to meet. That is not to say the crypto tax provision embedded in the policy that inexplicably expands the definition of broker, imposing an undue burden on innovators of color, is the correct approach.

But the law does allocate significant funding towards workforce development and skills training, and also earmarks $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to invest in research and development and the technologies of the future. Blockchain entrepreneurs and startups should also have access to this funding as they build and innovate to solve long standing inequities for America’s unbanked in El Paso, Texas; Detroit; Bronx, N.Y.; Oakland, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; and other local municipalities, such as those in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia.

There’s also a festering gender divide to address in the United States. Professional women are a casualty of COVID-19 – women of color to a large degree. And the “great resignation” is a grave economic crisis.

All solutions must be on the table! Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are here for good and can jump-start future-of-work strategies that can prepare, train and strengthen America’s workforce.

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Cleve Mesidor

Cleve Mesidor is an Advisor to the Blockchain Association and leads the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain.