Black Burdens, White Wages, and the Persistence of Economic Inequality

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
The American Prospect

Higher education does not guarantee wage equity. The wage gap for male college graduates—a relatively privileged group that did some of the things that American society demands—is still disturbing. The EPI report found that in 1979, the wage gap for new black male workers who had a bachelor’s degree or more was a little under 5 percent; by 2015 it was 18 percent. There was a similar increase in the wage gap for black college-educated women. These developments might invite questions about the utility of a college education, but “college will still be an effective way of increasing mobility, unquestionably,” says EPI’s Wilson. “It’s not about college having no economic benefit.” The issue, Wilson adds, is about college’s inability to reduce racial disparities.

“Education is not the great equalizer,” says Darrick Hamilton, an economist at the the New School and a co-author of a report on race, education, and disparities. Education will not buffer blacks from police harassment, nor does it cushion them from economic inequality. This is especially disconcerting since black students carry high college debt (on average $9,000 more than their white peers). To discussions about free community college, the underrepresentation of black students at increasingly expensive public universities, and continued attacks on affirmative action, educators and economists must also ask: Can colleges provide the necessary tools to reduce racial wage gaps, and if so, how?"

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