News: Data, Research & Evaluation

3 Takeaways From the Latest Report on Disparities in Job Attainment and Earnings

Friday, November 8, 2019  
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By Zenia Henderson, Director of Member & Partner Engagement

In a recent data analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), “The Unequal Race for Good Jobs,” we identified a few key findings we thought you should know about. Admittedly, the data continue to be dismal, as significant disparities by race carry on in yet another report. (Did you forget about the disparities in higher education outcomes by race? Please don’t.)

The CEW report analyzes data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to highlight that educational attainment beyond a high school diploma is imperative to increasing the likelihood of having a good job. The point of this report, though: the likelihood of that outcome lags significantly for Black and Latino populations compared to Whites.

Like me, you may be wondering what defines a good job. In this report, the authors define a good job as “one that pays family-sustaining earnings,” noting that in 2016, the overall median earnings for these good jobs were $65,000.

A warning to my readers today: You may experience feelings of frustration, perhaps even rage, as you should, in reading even the first three pages of the executive summary. It leads with a high-level summary of the racist policies and blatant discrimination that Blacks and Latinos have experienced in this country. The historical backdrop: slavery and colonization, among other things.

Here are a few findings that we think matter the most from this report, as related to our relentless commitment to closing the equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students.

  1. One thing that this report confirmed was what we already know: a college degree is the currency of validation in our country, and it is what opens up the doors to economic mobility. The data show that across races, workers were rewarded for upskilling, showing that “more education has led to more good jobs.” In particular, the likelihood of having a good job has favored workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  2. Yet still, White workers were more likely than Black or Latino workers to have a good job at all three levels of educational attainment (workers with a high school diploma or less, workers with middle skills (includes associate degrees, postsecondary certificates, licenses, certifications, and some college but no degree), and workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher).
  3. Another thing we already know, not all (good) jobs pay the same. In addition to the increased likelihood of obtaining good jobs compared to Black and Latino workers, White workers also earned more at all three levels of education, specifically by a $6,000 to $10,000 difference in earnings.

It’s clear from the analysis of this data that White workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher have benefited the most from our country’s need for more trained and educated workers. There is always much more data to consider and analyze, as this analysis focused on three racial groups. Knowing what we know about efforts to close equity gaps for all students, it is interesting that some racial groups were not included in the analysis, further perpetuating the invisibility of the Native American community, for example. It may also be interesting to further see disparities in gender by race and consider what kinds of solutions might be offered in such case.

Nevertheless, this analysis validates the need for further racial equity work in higher education. We agree with the authors’ call for “policies that would expand educational opportunity, and policies that would address discrimination.”

We want to underscore the following policy implications related to advancing educational opportunities and commend NCAN members for the work you do in your communities to move the needle on postsecondary outcomes:

  • Reward colleges that enroll and graduate students from underserved populations.
  • Increase funding to community colleges.
  • Ensure that counselors are trained to provide culturally competent counseling.

And we know there’s so much more that can be done at the policy and practice levels.

(Image via the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce)