A new report “Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?,” from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) describes the stagnation and decline in black labor market-outcomes since the end of the 1970s. According to the report, the poor outcomes reflect an overall decline in workers’ bargaining power, which has disproportionately affected black workers, as well as ongoing discrimination against workers of color. In 1979, just one-in-ten black workers had a four-year college degree or more. By 2011, one-in-four black workers was a college graduate. There was also a large drop in the share of black workers without a high school degree, falling from almost one-third in 1979 to just one-in-twenty in 2011.
The report defined a good job as one that pays at least $19 per hour (the inflation-adjusted median wage for male workers in 1979), has employer-provided health insurance, and has some type of employer-sponsored retirement plan.
While the share of good jobs in the economy as a whole has also fallen, the drop among black workers has been significant, especially for black males. Between 1979 and 2011, the share of black men in good jobs fell from 26.4 percent to 20.9 percent. While the share of black women in good jobs did rise from 14.5 percent in 1979 to 18.4 percent in 2011, black women are still less likely to have a good job than black men. The researchers found that black workers at every age and education level are less likely to be in a good job today than they were in 1979 and are less likely to be in a good job than comparable white workers.
The authors blame the deterioration in job quality on discrimination against black workers and an economy-wide decline in the bargaining power of workers. These broader factors include an erosion of the value of the minimum wage and a decline in unionization rates in the private sector. Universal policies such as national health insurance or a universal retirement plan over and above Social Security would, the report demonstrates, have a large impact on the quality of jobs for black workers. Pay equity with white male workers, increasing unionization, and further increases in college attainment would also help.