Wage gap between white and black Americans is worse today than in 1979

Black Americans today earn even less relative to their white counterparts than they did in 1979, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The report, released by the left-leaning thinktank on Tuesday, shows that the gap between wages of both black and white men and black and white women has widened over the last 36 years.

Black men’s average hourly wages went from being 22.2% lower than those of white men in 1979 to being 31% lower by 2015. For women, the wage gap went from 6% in 1979 to 19% in 2015.

“The finding that stands out the most, our major result, is that the racial wage gaps were larger in 2015 than they were in 1979. That’s huge because the impression people have, in general, is we know there’s still racism in this country, but we think or at least believe that it’s getting better,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the EPI’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy and one of the report’s authors.

The EPI report comes a week after the US Census Bureau found that in 2015, median income for white Americans went up 4.4% and that of black Americanswent up by 4.1%. While everyone’s income went up in 2015, a large racial divide remains. The median household income for white Americans in 2015 was $63,000. That’s 70% more than the median household income of black Americans, which was $36,898.

One of the main reasons that income for black Americans is not increasing at the same rate as that of white Americans is the starting salaries of college graduates within each group. According to the EPI, black male college graduates “started the 1980s with less than 10% disadvantage relative to white male college graduates but by 2014 similarly educated new entrants were at a roughly 18% disadvantage”.

The report was unequivocally grim for black women, especially those who are young. The researchers found that the current wave of inequality has hit young black women the hardest. Since 2000, when the gap began widening, it’s black women just entering the workforce who have seen their wages fall the farthest compared with their white peers.

The wage gap between white and black workers is still at its largest between men. But since 1979, the gap has grown fastest among women. Thirty-seven years ago, black women earned only 6% less than white women. Today, black women earn 19% less than white women. Differences in educational attainment and other factors, like the fact that black women are more likely to work in the south, explain only a third of that gap.

You can see this trend writ small among highly educated black women, Wilson said. At the beginning of the 1980s, black women with a college degree or higher and white women with a college degree or higher earned roughly the same wages. But today, wages for black women with a college degree or higher are 12.3% less than those of their white counterparts. That is double the disparity experienced by black women with only a high school degree.

At the same time that the racial wage gap has widened, the gender wage gap has narrowed significantly. But the effects of racial discrimination have all but erased those gains for black women.

“There’s no question that white women benefited more from the narrowing of the gender wage gap than black women,” said Wilson.

She noted that in the 1990s, while the gender wage gap for white women grew noticeably smaller, for black women, the disparities stayed the same. “Black women are faced with both kinds of discrimination,” Wilson said. “And that racial disadvantage has basically limited their achievements in narrowing the gender gap.”

The EPI report released on Tuesday included some measures the US could take to close the wage gap between black and white Americans. The suggestions included increasing the federal minimum wage, enforcing laws to prevent “wage theft” and discrimination, developing ways to assess the role discrimination plays on wages of black Americans and a summit to address the low starting salaries of black Americans.



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