A recent study published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) shows how systemic, historical advantages in education and economics have given white workers a persistent edge. The research—conducted through the Good Jobs Project, a collaboration between CEW and JPMorgan Chase & Co.—indicates that white workers tend to earn more than Black and Latinx workers with the same level of educational attainment.
In fact, at every level of education, Black and Latinx workers’ earnings in good jobs are lower than those of white workers. For example, white workers with bachelor’s degrees earned a median salary of $75,000 in 2016, while Black and Latinx workers earned a median salary of $65,000.
Between 1991 and 2016, white workers built upon historical advantages and held a disproportionate share of good jobs—or those that pay at least $35,000 for workers between ages 25 and 44 and $45,000 for workers between ages 45 and 64. In 2016, white workers accounted for 69 percent of job holders but held 77 percent of the good jobs, while Black and Latinx workers—who held 13 and 18 percent of all jobs, respectively—held only 10 and 13 percent of good jobs.
Study points to discrimination, disparities in educational opportunity
Exploring the systems that have driven these inequities, CEW researchers point out that “a growing share of economic rewards in the U.S. labor force have accrued to workers with postsecondary education, especially bachelor’s and graduate degrees.” And while diversity in higher education has improved, hurdles such as financial constraints have kept college inaccessible for some. Thirty-three percent of white Americans over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to 19 percent of Black Americans and 16 percent of Hispanic Americans, Inside Higher Ed writes.
“We had slavery, Jim Crow, the failure to hand out 40 acres and a mule; we had housing policy, veterans’ policy, redlining. The new culprit is higher education,” Anthony Carnevale told Inside Higher Ed. Carnevale is the co-author of the report and director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Expanding educational opportunity and promoting workforce equity
The study offers a list of policy recommendations to create a more equitable path to good jobs. Those include: rewarding colleges that enroll and graduate students from underserved backgrounds, making sure counselors are able to provide culturally competent advice, and investing in the retraining of displaced workers.
The authors also recommend increasing the role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that guards against workplace discrimination, and granting economic development incentives to companies that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruiting. Carnevale also suggested introducing relevant work experience and training to students as early as middle and high school.