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