Discrimination Is Costing Black Americans 27% In Potential Income (Video)

In April, Ambrosia for Heads reported on the expanding rate of income inequality along racial lines in the United States, an economic trend which has led to families of color being consistently paid less than their White counterparts. The statistics suggest that, despite the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and ’60s and what is often perceived as the steady improvement in economic status for Americans of color, the April report as well as one released today (September 20) by the Economic Policy Institute paint an entirely different picture. In fact, the wage gap between Black and White Americans is wider than it has been since 1979.

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As reported by CNN Money, the hourly wage for White Americans in 2015 is, on average, $25.22 whereas Black Americans are earning the average hourly rate of $18.49. This translates into a 26.7% gap, a stark difference from 1979, when Black Americans made only 18.1% less than Whites. The EPI’s findings are even more troubling when taking into account what the study cites as primary factors in the income disparity. Rather than differences in education levels or levels of previous work experience, “the researchers found ‘discrimination…and growing earnings inequality in general,’ to be the primary factors at play.”

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As CNN cites, there have been extensive studies conducted in the past (such as this 2003 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination”) which find there to be frequent instances of discrimination in hiring practices based on names of applicants. “Studies have shown that applicants with ‘Black sounding names’ like Jamal are less likely to get a call back than applicants with names that appear White.”

These findings, rather than pinpoint structural failings like education or access to jobs, instead offer a more insidious and troubling picture: hard-wired racism is directly affecting how much money Black Americans are making. “Black men with a bachelor’s degree or more and who had 11 to 20 years of work experience made 27.2% less than Whites with the same level of education and experience,” the study found. “Black women with a bachelor’s degree or more and 11 to 20 years of work experience were paid 10.6% less than White women,” as well.

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The trend is also affecting entry-level job applicants fresh out of college. “Black women with a bachelor’s degree alone were paid 10.7% less than White women, while Black men with the same credentials were paid 18% less than their White counterparts,” states the report.

Authors of the EPI report also point to “the skyrocketing incarceration rates of thousands of Black men and women in the 1980s and 1990s who were pulled out of the workforce and have since struggled to get back in” as a driving force behind the massive wage gap.

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Included in CNN Money’s report is a video featuring Safiyyah Cotton, a 22-year-old single mother whose struggle getting by on $7.50 an hour is a struggle being experienced by millions of Americans. Though a year old, the hardships outlined in the interview with Ms. Cotton represent real-life examples of te 2015 data examined in the aforementioned EPI report. The video breaks down the numbers of her financial story including her income, the money she receives from government assistance, her health insurance costs, child care fees, and other factors that have implications extending far beyond financial well-being. For instance, she explains that she is unable to purchase fresh produce on a consistent basis, leading her to depend on frozen foods filled with preservatives and other ingredients which contribute to diseases like diabetes and obesity.

A highly detailed summary of the EPI report, titled “Black-white wage gaps expand with rising wage inequality,” is available here, and that’s where readers can find some semblance of resolution to the issues. Due to the systemic nature of the problem of racism, it’s not surprising that any course of action to solve the problem is equally complex. As the authors of the report state, “actually taking the steps necessary to close and eliminate the gaps will require intentional and direct action,” suggesting that “at a minimum, there must be consistently strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and minority workers.” Furthermore, there is great need for “greater transparency in the ways decisions in these areas are made and ensuring that the processes available for workers to pursue violations of their rights are effective.”

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The suggestions for recourse get far more specific, and include “the Obama administration and the next president [should] hold summits on minority college graduates,” urging the Bureau of Labor Statistics to “work with organizations directly engaged in the education, workforce development, and employment of African Americans to identify the ‘unobservable measures’ that impact the Black-White wage gap,'” and a recommendation that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ought to “work with experts to develop metropolitan area measures of discrimination that could be linked to individual records” in order to “allow researchers to directly assess the role that local area discrimination plays in the wage setting of African Americans and Whites.” Also included is an argument for increasing the minimum wage, and much more.

Readers interested in getting directly involved with such action can do so by researching the minimum wage issue on the White House’s official website.

Find Amanda Mester on Twitter.