“Everybody knows that people of color are at an incredible economic disadvantage, but few realize it’s as bad or worse than it was before civil rights.”
At the Republican National Convention in August, the GOP claimed that their policies under Trump have benefitted Black workers across the United States. However, research paints a starkly different picture. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the wage gap between Black and white Americans has actually grown nearly 33% from 2000 to 2019.
“Everybody knows that people of color are at an incredible economic disadvantage, but few realize it’s as bad or worse than it was before civil rights,” Karen Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, told The Washington Post. “Black Lives Matter has shown that we don’t have Selma Bridge anymore, but the situation today is profoundly troubling.”
The Brookings Institute found in 2016 that the average white family had 10 times the wealth of the average Black family. Wealth, as defined by the study, encompassed the resources available to a household: salaries, home ownership, stocks, inheritances, and other assets. These factors can be passed from one generation to the next, giving white Americans an advantage in how they accumulate wealth. That same generational impact means that even Black families with similar incomes inevitably have only a fraction of the overall wealth.
The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Making Gaps Between Black and White Americans Worse
Those problems are being compounded by an unemployment epidemic taking an outsize toll on Black workers. Without a national coronavirus response strategy under the Trump administration, unemployment for Black workers has soared. According to the Washington Post, less than 49% of Black adults were employed, compared to numbers above 50% for white and Latino workers in the US.
Those numbers are a disturbing reminder of the persistence of inequity along racial lines, despite decades of progress.
The wage gap shrunk substantially from 1950 to 1980, as Black workers benefited from an increase in blue-collar jobs along with civil-rights laws, strong unions, and rising minimum wages. In recent years, however, the minimum wage has remained nearly static in some states, and the federal minimum wage hasn’t moved since 2009. Union power has been attacked by the GOP, and tax rates have fallen more for the wealthy than anyone else, leaving Black economic growth floundering.
“This idea that we’re all in this together is sort of a false statement to make,” said Valerie Wilson, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.
Wilson’s thoughts are demonstrated outright discrimination in hiring practices and disparities in small business funding for Black and white Americans. Studies have found hiring managers looking at similar resumes are much less likely to interview an applicant that they can tell is Black, and Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to not have loans approved.
Even With Improved Education Equity, Wealth Gaps Persist Between Black and White Americans
Contrary to popular thinking, more education has not made the situation better. The average Black household headed by someone with an advanced degree has less wealth than a white household headed by someone with only a high-school diploma. Even when taking age, gender, education, and region into account, Black workers on average are still paid nearly 15% less than white workers. Financial stress is only exacerbated by education in some cases, s more heads of household have student loan debt among Black families than white families.
As the country collectively engages in broad protests about the persistence of injustice and inequity in the United States, experts are urging Americans to understand that disparities across racial lines have incredibly deep impacts on every aspect of life for Black Americans.
“People are focused on policing,” said Andre M. Perry, a Brookings Institution fellow. “But this is much broader. This is about a fatigue of policy violence in all areas of life.”