The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

A Good Job is Hard to Find

Better-educated, older and more experienced black workforce still sees fall in share of good jobs over the last 30 years.


Black workers today are better educated and older than they were three decades ago, but are still less likely to be in a good job now than they were in 1979. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines this deterioration of job quality for black workers in the United States and evaluates several policies that could help to reverse this trend.

The report "Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?," describes the stagnation and decline in black labor market-outcomes since the end of the 1970s. According to the report, the poor outcomes reflect an overall decline in workers' bargaining power, which has disproportionately affected black workers, as well as ongoing discrimination against workers of color.

In 1979, just one-in-ten black workers had a four-year college degree or more. By 2011, one-in-four black workers was a college graduate. There was also a large drop in the share of black workers without a high school degree, falling from almost one-third in 1979 to just one-in-twenty in 2011.

The black workforce is also older and more experienced today than in 1979. At the end of the 70s, the median age of the employed black worker was 33. Today the median is 39.

"Economists expect that increases in education and work experience will increase workers' productivity and translate into higher compensation." said Janelle Jones, a co-author of the report. "But, the share of black workers in a 'good job' has actually declined."

The report defined a good job as one that pays at least $19 per hour (the inflation-adjusted median wage for male workers in 1979), has employer-provided health insurance, and has some type of employer-sponsored retirement plan.

While the share of good jobs in the economy as a whole has also fallen, the drop among black workers has been significant, especially for black males. Between 1979 and 2011, the share of black men in good jobs fell from 26.4 percent to 20.9 percent. While the share of black women in good jobs did rise from 14.5 percent in 1979 to 18.4 percent in 2011, black women are still less likely to have a good job than black men. The researchers found that black workers at every age and education level are less likely to be in a good job today than they were in 1979 and are less likely to be in a good job than comparable white workers.

"Over the last three decades, black workers have made an enormous, often unrecognized, investment in upgrading their education and work skills," Jones said. "But the economy has turned against workers across the board, leaving even college-educated black workers with little to show for these investments."

The authors blame the deterioration in job quality on discrimination against black workers and an economy-wide decline in the bargaining power of workers. These broader factors include an erosion of the value of the minimum wage and a decline in unionization rates in the private sector.

Universal policies such as national health insurance or a universal retirement plan over and above Social Security would, the report demonstrates, have a large impact on the quality of jobs for black workers. Pay equity with white male workers, increasing unionization, and further increases in college attainment would also help.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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