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Pay gap persists for African-Americans

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- African-American workers continue to earn far less than whites, according to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Furthermore, little progress has been made over the years to close the income gap. At a per-capita income of $18,054 in 2008, African-American earnings were just 57.9% that of whites' $28,502. That was a slight improvement over 2007 when black income was just 56.4%, but down from 2005, when it was 59.3%.

Those figures are averages and they can be skewed by the very high income of relatively few individuals. But even examining median incomes, the point in a population where half the people earn more and half less, which should shrink the difference because it gives no extra weight to inflated earners, the racial gap still exists.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whites earned a median of $756 weekly during the three months ended June 30, 25% more than blacks, who earned $607.

"There are, of course, individual cases where people can overcome the pay disparity, but unfortunately, we're still seeing the trend," said Monique Morris, Vice President for Research and Advocacy for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

African-Americans are over-represented in the lowest earnings categories and under-represented in the highest earning ones.

More than half of all blacks, 15 years old or over and working full-time, earned under $35,000 in 2008. Only 35% of white workers earned less than that.

On the other hand, 10.8% of all white workers made more than $100,000 a year, the highest income category in the Census report. That compared with just 3.3% of blacks earning six-figure salaries.

Reasons for the gap

According to Morris, much of the shortfall may be traced to educational achievement. The Census report revealed that only 19.7% of African-Americans had bachelor's or advanced degrees. That compared with 32.6% for whites. And 17% of blacks had not graduated from high school, exactly twice the rate of whites.

Family wealth, low for blacks, also restricts opportunities; it limits access to good schools growing up and private colleges in young adulthood.

Wealthier families also tend to have wider social networks of successful friends and relatives, often a key to opening a door to a higher-paying career.

Morris said discrimination also plays a role, with the NAACP still documenting cases in which blacks with equal or better qualifications are offered less money to do the same jobs as white colleagues.

And once anyone, white or black, settles for less pay than they deserve, their earnings power can be affected for years. Working a low-paying job usually means climbing the earnings ladder step by step, with income lagging behind other members of an age group every step of the way.

"Part of what you get paid for is your work history," said Morris. The wages for each new job builds on the previous ones.

Ending hiring discrimination and giving job applicants the information they should have concerning pay scales would go a long way toward narrowing the disparity between white and black income, according to Morris.

"When you start out with a level playing field and are transparent about pay during the rest of the hiring process, the outcomes are more favorable for everyone," she said. To top of page

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