School & District Management

White Workers More Likely to Get Good Jobs at Every Level of Education

By Alyson Klein — October 18, 2019 3 min read
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You’re more likely to get a “good” job if you’re white, compared to someone with exactly the same education level who is black or Latino. That’s true whether you have a high school diploma, some workforce skills, or a bachelor’s degree or higher.

That’s the conclusion of a new report, “The Unequal Race for Good Jobs,” from Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy Center on Education and the Workforce. The report defines a good job as one that pays at least $35,000 annually, and at least $45,000 for workers 45 and older. Good jobs had median earnings of $65,000 in 2016, according to the report.

The report found that white workers earn more than their black and Latino colleagues regardless of education level. For instance, a white worker with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned a median income of $75,000 a year in 2016, compared to just $65,000 for black and Latino workers. White middle-skilled workers, defined as those with some post high school education but not a bachelor’s, earned $60,000 compared to $53,000 for black workers and $55,000 for Latino workers. And white workers with a high school diploma or less earned a median of $56,000, compared to $50,000 for black and Latino workers.

Those findings were “not surprising” for Wil Del Pilar, the vice-president for higher education at the Education Trust, a Washington-based civil rights organization. “It confirms a lot of the things we know about society generally and how education doesn’t pay out the same for everyone,” he said.

All workers increased their likelihood of having a “good” job between 1991 and 2016. But white workers are still most likely to have them. White employees increased their share of good jobs from 50 percent to 58 percent. And during the same time frame, black workers increased their share from 33 percent to 41 percent and Latino workers increased their share from 30 percent to 37 percent.

White employees hold a disproportionate share of good jobs relative to their share of overall employment. But blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in good jobs. For instance, white workers held 77 percent of the good jobs in the United States in 2016, but just 69 percent of all jobs. Black workers held just 10 percent of the good jobs, even though they collectively held 13 percent of all jobs. And Latinos filled 18 percent of jobs overall, but just 18 percent of the “good” jobs.

That’s despite the fact that all three groups were more educated in 2016 than they were in 1991. Back in 1991, 29 percent of white workers had a bachelor’s degree. By 2016, the number climbed to 44 percent. Just 16 percent of black workers had a bachelor’s in 1991, compared to 30 percent in 2016. And while just 11 percent of Latino workers had a bachelor’s back in 1991, 20 percent did by 2016.

And among all three groups, good jobs have become increasingly concentrated among workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Whites with a bachelor’s degree gained the most good jobs—10.6 million between 1991 and 2016. That’s compared to just a 200,000 jump in good jobs for Black workers with a high school diploma or less. Meanwhile, Latinos gained good jobs at all three educational levels.

So what should public policymakers do about the gap? The report recommends rewarding colleges that enroll students from underserved populations, increasing funding for community colleges, and promoting professional and industry efforts to increase diversity.

Del Pilar added to that list: “I think we have to think systemically in how to create equitable opportunities for students of color,” he said. “We need to close gaps.” He urged policymakers to consider expanding high-quality early childhood education, upping the number of teachers of color, and helping schools hire more guidance counselors.

What can principals and superintendents do in the meantime? Hiring teachers of color, providing “wraparound supports” like counseling and health service, and making sure students of color get access to effective teachers, Del Pilar says.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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