African Americans are better off in many ways but still face wage and employment inequality

Ya' Cousin Cleon

Jun 21, 2014
Harvey World to Dallas, TX
We believe in hyperbole as much as anyone, but the other day we came across a claim that stuck out to us. In boasting about the economy, a commentator wrote that it's "hard to find a single indicator that isn't pointed in a bullish direction."

Now, it's true that the bulls are running. In May, the unemployment rate hit an 18-year low at 3.8 percent. Economists call this full employment, and it's little wonder when some estimate that there are more open jobs in America than job seekers.

But amid this good news, there is a streak running through the data that should give us more than a little pause. African Americans continue to lag whites in terms of employment, and, although that gap has narrowed in recent years, the gap in wages between whites and blacks has actually increased over the past two decades.

Here are the numbers: For whites, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. And for blacks, it was 5.9 percent.

But while that 2.4 percentage point gap represented an improvement, the wage gap has been widening. For those without a high school degree in 2000, whites earned $1.48 more an hour on average than blacks. In 2017, that gap grew to $2.41. The gap persisted for all education levels, but it was at its widest for those at the top end. For those with an advanced degree in 2000, whites earned $5.13 more an hour than blacks. In 2017, that gap was $7.98.

What popped out to us in the data is this: Everyone took a hit during the financial crisis, but within a few years whites recovered and then grew their wages.

African-Americans had a different experience. They took a hit during the recession but their wages haven't fully recovered. In some education brackets, blacks actually earn slightly less than they did per hour before the financial crisis.

The net result is that in many ways blacks are being left behind in this long-running economic expansion. And the gap can be significant, as much as $15,000 a year at the top end. That kind of cash can mean the difference when buying into a rising neighborhood or putting money aside for a retirement or just a rainy day. The bottom line is that the wage and employment gaps feed a broader disparity.

As the economy booms, we need to find ways to ensure it booms for all.