The wage gap between black and white workers in the US has increased significantly since 1979, all while productivity has gone up by nearly 63 percent overall, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
In 2015, black men made 22 percent less, and black women made 34.2 percent less, in average hourly wages compared to white men with the same education, work experience, region of residence, and metro status, the EPI found, while black women made 11.7 percent less than white women with the same characteristics. In 1979, black men and women who shared the same characteristics as their white peers made 16.9 percent less and 4.5 percent less, respectively.
Overall average hourly wage gaps have widened as well. Black men's average hourly wages had fallen to 31 percent lower than those of white men by 2015, compared to 22.2 percent lower in 1979. Black women's average hourly wages had decreased to 19 percent lower than white women in 2015, as opposed to 6 percent lower in 1979.
Younger black women, or those with 10 years of experience or less, have lost the most ground compared to their white peers since 2000. This category of black women earned 4.1 percent less than young white women in 2000; in 2015, that gap has grown to 10.8 percent less.
Wage-growth inequality is also stark among the top 5 percent of income recipients and everyone else, the report says. Since 1979, wages have been near-stagnant for most American workers compared with overall rising productivity while the top 5 percent have seen more increases in wage growth as productivity has risen. The disconnect between wage and productivity growth means that the majority of workers have reaped few of the economic rewards they helped to produce over the last 36 years because most of the benefits have gone to those at the very top of the wage scale.
Only 3 percent of all chief executives are African American, and a disproportionate number of them are employed in the public or private nonprofit sectors, where salaries are lower and more likely to be capped than they are in the private for-profit sector. Black men have been particularly disadvantaged by declining unionization in the US. Since 1983, when data on union membership by race became available, the black-white wage gap has increased by 1.6 percent among male entrants and 3 percent among experienced male workers. One-fourth to one-fifth of this growth can be attributed to unionization decline, EPI said, regardless of experience.