New research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that African-American workers earn less than their white counterparts regardless of educational attainment. Progress Illinois looks at the report and gets reaction from the Chicago Urban League.
African Americans earn less than whites at every education level in the United States, according to recent research on the black-white wage gap.
"While a college education results in higher wages -- both for whites and blacks -- it does not eliminate the black-white wage gap," reads the analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C. "African Americans are still earning less than whites at every level of educational attainment."
Paula Thornton Greear, senior vice president of external affairs at the Chicago Urban League, which was not involved with the EPI report, weighed in on the findings.
"I'm really surprised by the research but not shocked," she said in an interview. "I think we all need to take a collective pause after the initial gasp of finding out that it would take 228 years for the average African-American family to catch up to the wealth that their white counterparts have. That's a pretty amazing number, and it's not a gap -- it's a chasm."
Greear called for tackling the "root causes" of racial wealth gaps, including education, housing, hiring and other policies and practices that may be well-intentioned but can "work against" African Americans and other people of color.
"We have to be very intentional about closing this gap," she said.
EPI found that racial wage gaps are wider today than in 1979 due largely to discrimination and growing income inequality. Since 1979, the black-white wage gap grew the most among the highest-educated workers, including those with a bachelor's degree or higher.
"I think that's really scary," Greear said of the finding. "What are we, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education? And school systems in the United States, including here where we are in Chicago, are still separate and unequal, quite frankly. As that statement reflects, you're losing generations because of the underfunded and underperforming schools.
"That's one part of the equation," she continued. "I think too that systematically people of color, African Americans, have been discounted, and the amount of time that they spent in the educational system does not equate to that of the white population. It's not one thing, it's a mix of things that's happening. And it goes back, not only to college, but in (kindergarten through 12th grade) in those early years. And I think it's a darn shame that people are earning less."
Speaking specifically about Chicago, Greear said that "decades of piecemeal efforts" in the city "have failed" to eliminate racial wealth gaps.
"We cannot keep addressing the issue of the racial wealth gap in a silo," she stressed. "It's really important, again, that we come together collectively for prevention, intervention and community redevelopment programs in order to close this gap. Because we have to recognize that these policies and practices that were put in place, again most with really good intentions, have been manipulated over the years."
Greear also expressed concern over the yearlong Illinois budget impasse, particularly its impact on higher education. She believes the state budget impasse "did significantly affect the racial wealth gap."
"For example, if you look at Chicago State University, you have young people who were uncertain about their future. You had the MAP grant program [for low-income Illinois college students] that was significantly impacted," she explained. "Well, that directly affects whether or not people are able to continue their education. And if they're not able to continue their education, then that's going to directly affect the amount of wealth that they'll probably be able to make in the long-run."
Valerie Wilson, director of EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, has proposed several recommendations for closing the racial pay gap, including "consistent enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and minority workers, as well as greater transparency around within-firm pay by race, ethnicity, and gender."
Greear agreed with the recommendations and also stressed the need to "reduce reliance on student loans while supporting success in post-secondary education" as well as increasing the recognition and appreciation of those who receive education through trade schools or apprenticeships.
On the topic of reducing reliance on student loans, Greear said she favors the idea of allowing students to earn community college credit through local public service activities.
Overall, Greear stressed that all Americans should be concerned about racial wealth disparities.
"When one sector of our country falls, it really does ... have potential harm for the entire country, for our socioeconomic framework," she said. "So I would just urge people to take these statistics very seriously. Don't look at it as a, 'Well that's them and not me.' The individual wealth gap statistics affect us all."