A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found the racial wage gap between black and white men has grown from 22 cents to 31 cents between 1979 and 2015. Michael Hicks, a professor of business and economic research, believes the wage gap is due to different occupations, discrimination, earlier access to education and the labor market. DN File Illustration
Study finds increase in racial pay gap, black men earn 31 cents less than white
A recent study has found the racial wage gap has grown dramatically since 1979.
The study, conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, shows the wage gap between black and white men has grown from 22 cents to 31 cents between 1979 and 2015.
While the numbers may seem intimidating, Michael Hicks, a professor of business and economic research, said the study should not be taken too seriously.
The black-white wage gap has widened more among women but it is still larger among men, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Black men’s average hourly wages were 22.2 percent lower than those of white men in 1979 and declined to 31 percent lower by 2015. With an average hourly wage gap of 6 percent, black women were near parity with white women in 1979, but by 2015 this gap had grown to 19 percent.
“It’s really not credible in the sense they didn’t measure the actual comparison of earnings by occupation,” Hicks said. “What they would find is that the African-American wage gap compared to whites is 50 percent due to different occupations, and the remaining 50 percent is due to a combination of three other factors."
The first factor is "pure discrimination."
"We know that is just innately present," Hicks said.
The second factor is earlier access to education.
"It could be that African-American men are not getting educational attainment because they’re stuck in school systems that are bad at higher rates, so that may be driving them to different occupations," Hicks said.
The third factor is the labor market.
"The third thing sort of relates to the two, it might be a labor market problem, there are things that are driving African-American men to a certain set of occupations," Hicks said.
Although Valerie Wilson from Economic Policy Institute told NPR the study was controlled for the level of education, years of experience and the region (urban or rural areas), Hicks said the institutes only did it in aggregate and didn’t truly control.
Hicks also noted the left-leaning nature of the Economic Policy Institute.
“It’s a highly suspect organization,” he said. “You knew what their findings were going to be before they published the study. They’re not credible any longer; I’d say the same thing about the Heritage Foundation on the right. They’re not doing this to discover things, they’re doing this to promote a very narrow agenda.”
He said credible think tanks will allow research to change its mind on issues, though the topics researched may seem left- or right-leaning.
Emma Engler, Feminists for Action president, said she thinks the racial gap is still high because people think civil rights movements are over.
“One thing people get mixed up in is that the Civil Rights Movement [in the '60s] was the end, people aren’t as fired up anymore,” Engler said. “It’s not so far in the public eye, and people don’t pay attention to the microaggressions.”
Engler also said the racial wage gap isn’t just an issue for African Americans.
“So many minorities get taken advantage of,” Engler said. “It’s easy for businesses to take advantage of people when they first immigrate and they’re desperate for work.”
Hicks said he worries that race may be a proxy for other cultural concerns, and because the media isn’t portraying this cultural issue, its portrayal of racial pay gaps isn’t effective.
“Why are Indian Americans or other races who have faced challenges in the last century out performing whites in labor markets?” he said. “Is it discrimination against whites? I don’t think so. But those are sort of the troubling challenges that remain in this sort of research. … We don’t know how much is race a proxy for culture, and if we really had a good idea, how much is going on with other factors unrelated to skin factors playing a role.”
He also predicts that the wage gap will look "pretty much the same" in the next 10 to 20 years.
“These pay gaps are not going to change quickly at all,” Hicks said. “Any non-labor market discrimination, such as the fact that African Americans are typically in much worse school systems than white students are, are already locked in stone for anybody who is about over the age of 15, or maybe even younger. So anybody who is currently 15 or older, you’re already stuck with the schooling that you’ve got. If you’re already stuck in an underperforming public school, and you’re African American, and you’re 12 or 13, the damage is already done. Even if labor markets treat you fairly, some residual discrimination may already be fully played out.”
Engler is more optimistic about closing the wage gap, and said it’s a matter of getting resources to people.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be getting closer to closing [the wage gap],” Engler said. “It really depends on if people are willing to step forward and do something about it. The key to changing the system is creating awareness. It’s just a matter of talking to people. There’s no reason not to talk about the gender pay gap and the racial pay gap in the same conversation. Within gender there’s race and vice versa. It’s a cohesive issue.”