Higher Ed. Not Paying Off for Black Men in the Job Market

Black workers have little to show for investment in education

Although more black men have graduated from high school and college, their educational achievements have not increased their access to good-paying jobs with health and retirement benefits, according to a report issued by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The report also throws cold water on the unchallenged belief in the black community that all you need is a good education to get a good job. In addition, the study challenges the accepted belief that black men are not attending or graduating from college.

Center officials wrote in a report, titled “Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?” that good paying jobs have eluded black men because of continuing racial discrimination in the job market and other factors.

“Over the last many decades, black workers have made significant — and often overlooked — investments in education. Nevertheless, black workers have little to show for these investments,” the report said. “A lack of human capital does not appear to be causing the difficulties black workers face in the labor market. The factors that lie behind the poor outcomes for black workers include ongoing labor-market discrimination but also the same long-term, policy–driven deterioration in bargaining power experienced by low-and middle-wage workers in general.”

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for black men 20 years is always higher than any other racial or ethnic group. In September, the jobless rate for black men was 14 percent, up from 13.5 percent in August, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Center officials defined a “good job” as one that pays at least $19 per hour or at least $40,000 annually. The employer also has to provide health insurance and a retirement plan.

The study noted the dramatic improvement in black men’s educational achievement. In 1979, 72.6 percent of African-American men had only a high school education. Over the last three decades, the share of black men with a four-year college degree nearly tripled from 8.1 percent in 1979 to 23.4 percent in 2011. This compares with the share of black women with a four-year college degree, which more than doubled from 12.9 percent in 1979 to 28.5 percent in 2011.

“Although there were large improvements in educational attainment for both black women and black men, only black women experienced a payoff in the form of a greater likelihood of being in a good job,” the report stated. “The share of black women in a good job increased from 14.5 percent in 1979 to 18.4 percent in 2011. At the same time, the share of black men in a good job decreased from 26.4 percent to 20.9 percent over the same period.”

The study also noted that the black workforce is older and more experienced. In 1979, the median age of an employed black worker was 33 years old and today the median age is 39.

“Economists expect that increases in education and work experience will increase workers’ productivity and translate into higher compensation. However, the dramatic increase in educational attainment of black workers, coupled with a large increase in the median age has coincided with a drop in the share of black workers holding a good job,” the report said.

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