The state of black workers still needs improvement
African Americans face inequalities in workforce
Janell Ross | 9/4/2013, 11:48 a.m.
But the fight continues for equal pay and on-the-job advancement, as well as access to new, developing and high-paying industries.
For most of the last 50 years, black unemployment has remained about two times higher than the white joblessness rate, and in some major cities more than a third of working-age black men don’t have jobs. That trend continues in 2013.
Also worth noting is that education has proved to be of limited benefit for black workers. Black workers with college degrees enjoy a lower unemployment rate than those with only high school diplomas. But at every educational level, black workers remain unemployed at roughly twice the rate of their white peers.
In 2012, the unemployment rate for African Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree sat at 6.3 percent. That figure is equal to the unemployment rate experienced by white Americans with some college education but no bachelor’s degree.
Black workers remain clustered in industries such as government, the service industry and retail — the last two of which offer some of the nation’s lowest wages. And a continued spate of layoffs and furloughs in one sector that has consistently provided middle-class wages to black workers — state, local and federal government — not only has reduced the share of black people who are working but has also cut into average weekly take-home pay.
Government figures for weekly median wages of full-time workers point to another troubling racial economic inequality. In June, the median weekly wage for full-time salaried and hourly-wage black workers sat at $634, compared with $799 for white workers. And although white workers’ overall wages climbed by a few dollars in the second quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012 — because of slight gains made by white women — black workers’ wages fell by almost the same amount that white workers’ earnings rose.
Although the gender wage gap receives a great deal of annual attention, the difference between the median wages of men and women persists and takes on additional economically damaging forms across racial lines. In 2012, white women working full time earned a median wage of $719 each week compared with $879 earned by their white male peers. Meanwhile, black men employed full time earned a median of $665 each week, while black women earned $599. Latinas working full time took home the nation’s lowest median weekly wages: $521.
In black families, women’s wages have long accounted for a larger share of household income than in white families. But deindustrialization — the disappearance of manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs beginning in the late 1970s — has particularly affected the employment prospects of black men. Almost the same percentage of black women and black men are working, a situation that has never existed for any other racial or ethnic group. That fact indicates that very few black families can survive on a man’s income alone.
Janell Ross is a reporter in New York City who covers political and economic issues. This article first appeared in The Root.