Wage Gap Between Black and White Americans Is Wider Than in 1979


In a new report put out by the Economic Policy Institute, black Americans today earn even less money than they did in 1979 in comparison with their white counterparts. The findings, published Tuesday, reveal that the wage gap has widened over the last 37 years.


According to the report, the wage gap has widened more among women, but it is still larger among men. Black men’s average hourly wages were 22.2 percent lower than those of white men in 1979 but were 31 percent lower by 2015. Black women were nearly equal with white women, with a wage gap of 6 percent in 1979, but by 2015 that gap had grown to 19 percent, and young black women (those with 0 to 10 years of experience) have been hardest hit since 2000.

The report goes on to state that education levels and other observable factors are not the primary reason for gaps growing. In fact, black people's completion of a bachelor’s degree or more will not reduce the black-white wage gap. Black male college graduates entering the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or higher were still at an 18 percent deficit relative to their white counterparts.

Wage gaps are growing primarily because of discrimination (or racial differences in skills or worker characteristics that are unobserved or unmeasured in the data) and growing earnings inequality in general. Thus, closing and eliminating the gaps will require intentional and direct action.

The EPI outlined steps that could be taken to close and eliminate the wage gaps, including the following:

  • Consistently enforce antidiscrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and minority workers.
  • Convene a high-level summit to address why black college graduates start their careers with a sizeable earnings disadvantage.
  • Under the leadership of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, identify the “unobservable measures” that impact the black-white wage gap and devise ways to include them in national surveys.
  • Urge the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to work with experts to develop metropolitan area measures of discrimination that could be linked to individual records in the federal surveys so that researchers could directly assess the role that local area discrimination plays in the wage setting of African Americans and whites.

Read the full report at the Economic Policy Institute.