News: Incarceration Disparity Behind Wage Gap Between Black And White Men


How can this be? The wage gap for poor Black Americans is actually larger now than it was in the 1950s.

“The median earnings gap between Black and white men now stands at levels last seen more than 60 years ago, according to a new working paper by Patrick Bayer of Duke University and Kerwin Kofi Charles of the University of Chicago. The finding represents a reversal of years of progress, with wage disparities similar to what they were in 1950—four years before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, 14 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and a time when Jim Crow still dominated much of the country,” Equitable Growth reported.

The new study, which tracked the earnings gap for Black and white men ages 25 to 54 from 1940 through 2014, found that the wage gap hasn’t hasn’t budged since the 1970s. And in fact, it’s gotten worse. Among the reasons for this, according to the report, are an increase in incarceration as well as a general decline in working-class jobs during the past three decades. This resulted in a growing group of men who just aren’t working.

And the gap starts early on in life. According to a study published in March by Census Bureau researchers and the economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University, Black boys did much worse in the labor market than white boys, even if they “had similarly rich parents, educational qualifications and inherited wealth.” On the other hand, Black girls, showed no differences in wages upon controlling for parental income.

A clearer explanation of this trend are the stark differences in high-school completion and incarceration between Black and white boys, which the authors also show. A Black boy born to parents in the top 1% of the earnings distribution had the same chance of being in prison as a white boy whose parents made $36,000 per year,” the Economist reported.

There are other factors for the enduring as well. “Two forces are behind this tale of diverging fortunes among African-Americans. The first is not specific to race. Declining rates of union membership, de-industrialization and rising income inequality have wreaked havoc among middle- and lower-class Black men. The second force is race-specific. As discrimination declined, Black Americans entered occupations that had previously been closed off to them,” the Economist reported.

“Black men are earning less and also are less likely to be employed compared to their white counterparts. At the height of the Great Recession, for example, 37.8 percent of black men were not working vs. 18.6 percent of white men (compared to 18 percent for Black men in 1960 versus 8 percent for white men),” Equitable Growth reported.
And, found the report, education level isn’t really a factor in the gap.

“Black men today are much better educated than they were in the 1950s. The rising level of education among Black men was a significant driver of the initial narrowing of the racial wage gap in the 1950s and 1970s. While Black men today have slightly less education than their white counterparts (about a year less), the discrepancy is much smaller than it was 70 years ago,” Equitable Growth reported. Although, if Black men had not seen an increase in education, the earnings gap would have been even larger.

Written by Ann Brown

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