Higher Education Doesn’t Close the Wage Gap for People of Color

18 Nov 2015 | Abigail Langston
Higher Education Doesn’t Close the Wage Gap for People of Color
Above: National Journal analysis of Atlas wage data

In two recent National Journal articles, Matt Vasilogambros uses data from the National Equity Atlas to explore how the wages of workers in America’s 150 largest metro areas differ according to race/ethnicity and educational attainment (here and here). The Atlas provides data on median hourly wages broken down by race/ethnicity and level of education.

Overall, White workers earn more than people of color in every metropolitan area in the country—and the same pattern holds true within each category of educational attainment. (There are a handful of metro areas, most of which have incomplete data on the wages of workers of color, where Asians edge out Whites for the highest average pay.) Vasilogambros notes that “this gap in earn­ings between races and eth­ni­cit­ies is well-doc­u­mented, as are its reas­ons: Work­ing-age people of col­or tend to be young­er, have less ex­per­i­ence in skilled labor, and are less edu­cated than whites.”

While it is true that median hourly wages tend to rise with increasing educational attainment, so do racial wage inequities. According to Valerie Wilson, the dir­ect­or of the Eco­nom­ic Policy In­sti­tute’s Pro­gram on Race, Eth­ni­city, and the Eco­nomy, wage gaps have grown the most for college graduates. Data from the National Equity Atlas show that these hourly wage gaps are greatest (around $7 per hour) in cities like San Jose, San Francisco, and New York, where average levels of education and median wages are much higher. The narrowest gaps—still around $2 per hour—are seen in metro areas where the median pay for all workers is far below the national average. As Wilson puts it, “Things tend to equal out at the bot­tom, un­for­tu­nately.”

Sarah Treuhaft, the dir­ect­or of equit­able growth ini­ti­at­ives at Poli­cyLink, underscores the significance of these wage inequities, which are expected to grow as U.S. demographics continue to change. “It im­pacts the over­all eco­nomy,” says Treuhaft. “If people are not earn­ing as much pay, they have less money to save, to edu­cate their child, to spend in the eco­nomy, which fosters more eco­nom­ic activ­ity. Over­all, that ra­cial gap in wages adds up to a big gap in eco­nom­ic prosper­ity for the re­gion.”