Workforce Racial Gaps Stagnate While the Rich Get Richer

By Chris Hoenig


Photo by Shutterstock

Despite efforts to close racial and ethnic inequities in the workforce, a new report shows that Blacks and Latinos are no closer to closing employment and salary gaps.

The facts the report presents are not new: Blacks and Latinos earn less money and have higher unemployment rates than whites. But what the data show is that rather than narrowing gaps, the disparities on the graph below appear almost layered by race, indicating little, if any, change.

Those layers carry over into individual industries. In farming and maintenance, for example, whites make up 96 percent of all farm managers and ranchers, while nearly half of the farm workers and laborers are Latino. Ninety-two percent of construction managers and 91 percent of carpenters are white, while Latinos make up 44 percent of the lower-paying grounds maintenance staff.

Latinos are the lowest paid when broken down by race and ethnicity (men earn an average of about $550/week, while women earn about $500/week), even though a larger percentage of Latino men are part of the American workforce (more than three-quarters) than white men (just over 70 percent). And though white women are among the lowest participants in the workforce (less than 60 percent of white women have jobs, a percentage almost right on par with Latina women), they actually outearn Black men, bringing in nearly $700/week, compared to a little over $600/week for Black men and a little under $600/week for Black women. White men bring home the most money, averaging roughly $850/week.

The unemployment rate for Black Americans in 2012 (13.8 percent) is actually higher than the share of Black Americans in the workforce (11 percent). Those who do find work are finding themselves in some of the country’s lowest-paying jobs: more than one-third of home health aides and about a quarter of all bus drivers and security guards are Black.

Impact of Education

The data, provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, point to the value of a college degree. While high-school-dropout rates are very similar for whites, Blacks and Asians (9, 8 and 7 percent, respectively), more than a third of white Americans complete at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with barely a quarter of Blacks. Latinos, with the highest college-dropout rates (30 percent) and fewest college graduates (17 percent), make the lowest salaries.

Similar breakdowns can be seen in the positions people are employed in. Asians, with by far the highest college-graduation rate (58 percent), are the most likely to end up in management or professional-level jobs (49 percent). Only 30 percent of Blacks and 21 percent of Latinos end up in these positions (along with 39 percent of whites), while almost half end up in service or sales jobs (compared with about 40 percent of whites and Asians).

Widening Wealth Gaps

A September report from the Pew Research Center found that the income gap continued to widen between races and ethnicities, with salaries keeping steady between 2011when the income gap reached a record highand 2012.

Asians maintained the highest average household income last year at more than $68,000, better than $6,000 a year more than they did in 1987, when data was first kept. White households, meanwhile, have added about $7,000 a year to their income since 1972, now reaching an average of more than $57,000 a year. Latinos have seen virtually no change in the last 40 years, however, now earning an average of $39,000 per householdnot even $2,000 more than they did in 1972. Black households continue to be the poorest, averaging just $33,000 per year.

Rich Get Richer

While the income gap has widened in the past four decades between races, it has also widened within races. Middle-class families have seen their household incomes increase 19 percent since 1967, while the richest Americans have seen their wealth rise by 67 percent.

A salary of more than $202,000 was needed last year for a person to be among the top 5 percent in wage earners among whites. It took just $134,000 to be among the top 5 percent of Black Americans in income, almost identical to the salary that was the cutoff for the top 5 percent of whites back in 1972. The richest Latinos made at least $144,000 last year, while Asian-Americans needed to bring in almost a $250,000 to be considered among the wealthiest.

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