Race Still Matters: Why White Workers Keep Getting More of the Good Jobs

Education is supposed to be the Great Leveler. What if that isn’t enough?

More classes, degrees and certificates lead to better jobs and higher pay, but one problem endures: Gains from the growing labor market aren’t shared evenly — not when it comes to race.

Despite meaningful progress over the past 25 years, black and Hispanic workers continue to land fewer good jobs than their white counterparts, even when they have a similar education.

And when workers of color land a good job, they’re paid less on average than whites — about $10,000 less annually for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a recent study.

The report, titled “The Unequal Race for Good Jobs,” tallies the outsize gains made by white workers at all educational levels. Whether they have a high school diploma, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s, whites are more likely to have a good job and hold a greater share of them. The study defines a good job as paying at least $35,000 annually for workers who are 25 to 34, and paying at least $45,000 for older workers.

In the 1980s, when college became crucial to economic opportunity, whites in largely segregated suburbs “were poised for mass enrollment,” the report said. They earned college degrees in high numbers and added over 10 million good jobs from 1991 to 2016 — over twice as many as blacks and Hispanics combined.

“The white surge in college education sets up whites for decades of continued economic dominance,”Anthony Carnevale, lead author of the report and director of the Georgetown center, said in a news release.

The findings align with general trends in Dallas County. Median household incomes have grown for all three large racial groups, but whites maintain a decided advantage — roughly $15,000 to $20,000 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The gaps continue despite higher graduation rates from high school and gains in associate’s degrees, post-secondary certificates and bachelor’s degrees. Those achievements don’t automatically pay off, at least not on par with white peers.

One explanation: Many minority students don’t have comparable opportunities to take advanced classes and hold internships, and nurture personal and professional connections.

“Often, they don’t have the networks to capitalize on the education that they get,” Carnevale said in a phone interview last week.

He said students who have two parents with college degrees have advantages that go beyond financial resources.

“They learn how to negotiate the system, and they develop the expectations and willingness to do the kind of search that will land a good job,” he said.

The likelihood of landing such a job increased roughly the same for all three racial groups. But whites maintained a meaningful edge: 58% of whites were likely to have a good job in 2016, compared with 41% of blacks and 37% of Hispanics, the study found.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter’s House.

Raising teacher pay in underserved communities would start improving outcomes, he said.

“But it’s deeper than that,” Jakes added. Students and graduates “just don’t have enough exposure to the job opportunities and the relationships that open those doors.”

To close the gap, he said, it’s not enough to promote diversity in the workforce. Changes have to come at the top of corporate America.

“The only solution is to have more diversity in the upper levels of leadership,” Jakes said. “That will help alleviate some of the biases” involved in selecting workers and setting pay scales.

The Commit Partnership

When Commit started eight years ago, it identified 11 indicators to measure education progress — what it calls the “cradle-to-career pipeline.” It tracks Pre-K enrollment, fourth-grade math scores, college readiness, college completion and the like.

Now, it plans to add a 12th indicator on median income. More students, especially those of color, are graduating — and waiting for the payoff.

“That’s not necessarily translating into middle-income jobs,” said Rob Shearer.

Commit compiled Census Bureau data that echoes the results of the Georgetown study. Commit compared the annual earnings of young adults in Dallas County, ages 25 to 34, who had earned at least an associate’s degree.

Roughly 1 in 3 whites were making at least $50,000 a year in 2017. That compared with 1 in 10 blacks in Dallas County, Commit said, and 1 in 20 Hispanics.

How to spread the wealth to workers of all races? Commit plans to beef up its mentor program and increase the emphasis on soft skills, from dressing for the job to building a record of reliability.

It will keep touting the local talent to Dallas companies — and pointing out the importance of lifting incomes in the region.

“We’ve got to close the income gap in Dallas,” Shearer said. “But if employers are not thinking of our kids as prospective employees, we’re not gonna make a dent in the systemic problems we’re trying to solve.”

(Article written by Mitchell Schnurman)