Black Wages Lag Despite US Economic Growth

A new study found that Black workers have received smaller pay increases in the past few years compared to other racial groups. A Wall Street Journal analysis of the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that the inflation-adjusted median weekly earnings rose 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2019 for all US workers, compared to the beginning of the recession in late 2007. The publication’s analysis is based on a four-quarter average of inflation-adjusted weekly earnings. The median pay for US workers was $900 a week, an increase of $46 since 2007, according to the data.

However, the earnings of Black workers rose 1.6 percent, or $11, during the first quarter of 2019, the data found. The weekly earnings for Hispanic workers rose 11.8 percent ($73 a week), according to the Journal. Hispanic workers still earn an adjusted $692 a week, while Black workers earned a median wage of $711 a week.

Despite economic growth, Black workers benefit less than other US workers. The rate of Black unemployment in 2018 fell to its lowest level since the 1970s, but the average rate of the first quarter in 2018 was well above 3.9 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. “In a hotter economy, it’s important to be looking at the structural issues that may be inhibiting Black workers from seeing better gains," Valerie Wilson, an economist and director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity, and the economy, told the publication. Wilson said racial discrimination affects Black workers, and leads to a lack of jobs where Black workers live. Employers are also reluctant to hire people with criminal backgrounds, Wilson told the publication.

In all racial groups, women are earning less, according to the data analysis from the Wall Street Journal. More Black women are employed than Black men, but in every other racial group, there are more male workers than female workers, according to the publication. The data reviewed by the publication found that Hispanic men earn more than Black women. Hispanic workers in the US are also benefiting from education as more first and second generation Hispanic Americans are going to school to earn higher wages, Wilson told The Wall Street Journal.

A new study from the Institute of Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University and The Workers Lab, an organization that develops strategies to help working people’s lives, also found disparities in the workplace. The study titled “Not Only Unequal Paychecks: Occupational Segregation, Benefits, and the Racial Wealth Gap,” looked at five major industries and found that Black and Latino workers are “highly overrepresented” in lower-paying fields like restaurants and construction. It also found that white workers are overrepresented in higher-paying fields like finance.

The study also noted that Black workers in the health field are more likely to be employed in lower-paying health care positions. Thirty-eight percent of Black employees in the health care field reportedly make incomes below $25,000 a year, according to the study.

“Median wealth among Latino employees would increase 71 percent if employer-based health coverage were equalized and would more than double if pension rates were equalized,” the study stated. “For Black workers, median wealth would also go up substantially, increasing 25 percent if employer-based health were equalized and 53 percent if pension rates were equalized.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.