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Racial Inequality, at College and in the Workplace

White Americans still disproportionately outnumber their African American and Latino counterparts when it comes to obtaining good jobs, regardless of education they have obtained.

October 18, 2019
 
Istockphoto.com/hyejin kang

A new study released by Georgetown University in part refutes the notion that African American and Latinx minorities can improve their socioeconomic standing just by going to college.

According to the study, between 1991 and 2016, black and Latino Americans increased their likelihood of obtaining and maintaining a good job, but their white peers still disproportionately hold better jobs compared to their overall employment.

“It’s a pretty damning story all together, and it says that there’s a huge challenge ahead of us,” said Anthony Carnevale, a research professor at Georgetown and director of the university's Center on Education and the Workforce, who is also a co-author of the study.

A good job as defined by the study is one that provides “family-sustaining earnings,” which translates to minimums of $35,000 annually for workers 25 to 44 and $45,000 for workers 45 to 64.

Regardless of education levels obtained, these racial disparities continue to exist. Diversity in higher education has made improvements over the years but is still not accessible to all, primarily due to cost. The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2017, 41 percent of white young adults were enrolled in college, compared to 36 percent of black and Hispanic young adults. Additionally, for Americans over 25, 33 percent of whites have a bachelor's degree, compared to 19 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics.

The study found that in 2016 the median wage of a good job for workers with a bachelor's degree for whites was $75,000 compared to $65,000 for blacks and Latinos.

White workers are also paid more than black or Latinx workers in good jobs at every level of education received. College-educated whites have benefited the most from the increased demand for college-educated workers, said the study.

The study also found that in 2016 white workers held 77 percent of the good jobs despite only representing 69 percent of available job holders. Black workers had 10 percent of the good jobs out of 13 percent of the jobs they held, and Latinx workers had 13 percent of good jobs while holding 18 percent of all jobs. Also in the study findings was that black Americans have almost twice the unemployment rate of white Americans, and Latinos have about 1.5 times the unemployment rate of whites.

“We are a culture that keeps secrets from ourselves,” said Carnevale regarding the bias that exists in hiring processes.

Additional explanations for the lack of minorities in good jobs despite education levels, beyond personal bias, includes feeder patterns through school systems and the ability to form connections with people already in good jobs. However, according to Carnevale, at the margins, bias and discrimination better describe the divide in who holds good jobs.

As workers increase their level of education, wage discrimination is reduced between whites and minorities, but it still remains.

“Our institutions are now working in such a way that it pretty much guarantees that the white kids win. And we know that this is deeply embedded in the system,” Carnevale said.

Carnevale cited a previous study he worked on which found that 70 percent of white students from the top income sector still ended up going to college and getting a good job, while only 30 percent of lower-income students with high test scores followed that path. When those lower-income and minority students did make it into good jobs, they ended up getting paid less than their white counterparts.

He said that the conclusions to the study were stronger than he thought they would be, noting that there was progress for African Americans despite their position in comparison to whites.

“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,” said Carnevale. “It’s institutional just like the [Federal Housing Administration] policies that didn’t allow black people to buy houses in the suburbs. Colleges in America didn’t set out to do this, but in a passive sense they’ve become the capstone in a system that guarantees racial inequality.”

“In the end higher education is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The industrial organization of higher education is part of the problem,” said Carnevale.

Carnevale said that higher education needs to fundamentally change to help solve the problem, something he says most people recognize.

While African American and particularly Latino workers have gained traction in fields where a high school or middle-skills education is needed, whites still dominate jobs which need a bachelor's level of education. Middle skills refer to jobs that require less than a B.A. but more than a high school degree.

Carnevale compared the situation to a race where minorities are “running faster but losing ground” to white Americans, particularly affluent ones, who are pulling ahead.

“I don’t think people -- I didn’t, anyway -- fully understood the extent to which, since the '80s, the white and affluent population has basically locked down the future,” said Carnevale. “You can get rid of discrimination, but this is a structural problem.”

Carnevale said that whites are poised to continue to hold good jobs, especially in the B.A. sector, and minorities will have a hard time catching up.

The study recommended expanding educational opportunities and addressing discrimination, as well as implementing policies and incentives that encourage diversity and create more growth in underdeveloped areas.

One of the solutions Carnevale suggested was introducing work experience and training to students earlier. This included in middle and high school, because as it stands now, young people are not getting the relevant work experiences they need.

Carnevale said that some good news is that the number of good jobs is increasing while black and Latinx unemployment rates have decreased. However, those improvements do not mean that black or Latinx Americans have caught up to the good job opportunities accessible to white Americans.

“The pessimistic conclusion I come to -- and not all my co-authors agree with me -- is that the white population in America has set itself up for the next 30 to 40 years,” said Carnevale. “I don’t see what will change that except for policy on a scale that’s actually effective.”

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