Even College Doesn’t Bridge the Racial Income Gap


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Education is supposed to be the nation’s great socioeconomic leveler. That belief, however, is not borne out in the data. Pay gaps between white and black workers have grown since 1979, even after controlling for education, experience and location, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, racial pay gaps have expanded the most for college graduates, which makes it seem clear that discrimination is a leading cause.

Last year, black college graduates earned about 21 percent less per hour on average than white college graduates; in 1979, the gap was 13 percent. The racial disparity in earnings is even greater for men: Last year, the average hourly earnings of black college-educated men were about 25 percent less than of white college-educated men. The gaps widen up the economic ladder. The top 5 percent of black male earners make about 47 percent less than the top-earning white men.

That would most likely surprise many Americans, according to a study by Yale researchers, which found that the nation’s progress toward economic equality was broadly overestimated, with wealthy white people the most inclined to overstate the economic progress of African-Americans. The misperception is probably rooted in resistance to evidence that race, and not just individual effort, determines success and achievement.

The racial pay gap is narrower among women, but the gender pay gap in average hourly earnings is large. Last year, white college-educated women made 31 percent less than white college-educated men, while black college-educated women made 38 percent less than white college-educated men. Those gaps are reflected in other data, too. Specifically, white college-educated women consistently have a lower employment rate (currently, 67.2 percent) than similarly educated white men (76.1 percent), black men (75.4 percent) and black women (72.7 percent).

The obvious explanation, that these women’s husbands are more likely to make enough to be the sole support of a family, is basically correct, but glib. White women are also likelier to be married than black women. The racial marriage gap, which is attributed in part to tougher overall economic situations for black Americans, narrows with education level, but it does not close. As a result, black women at all education levels are likelier to…

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