Stories

Black and Hispanic wages seem poised to remain comparatively low

LM Otero / AP

Black and Hispanic income has stayed comparatively low since the federal government began breaking out the figures by race five decades ago, per the U.S. Census, and a current reason is that the jobs they're in do not typically require high digital skills, says Amy Liu, a vice president at the Brookings Institution.

As of 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, Hispanic Americans' median income was $45,148, and blacks earned $36,898. Whites were earning $62,950, and Asians $77,166. Per Census Bureau statistics on education, 23% of black Americans had college degrees in 2016, 16.4% of Hispanic Americans, and 37% of white Americans.

Why it matters: More and more U.S. jobs are going to require increasingly refined digital skills — already since the early 2000s, the proportion of jobs needing only minimal digital skills has dropped to 30% from more than half. That's probably going to put black and Hispanic Americans at a further disadvantage in the job market as time goes on.

How to deal with it: It's important to remember that "these market forces can result in inclusion rather than dislocation and inequality" if local governments and mayors step in and tailor workforce development programs to the needs of the people who are out-of-work in their cities, Liu says. For example...

  • If you're out of work in Boston, you're most likely to be less educated and of prime age, according to a Brookings study released in June, called "Meet the out-of-work," a snapshot into how work has changed since the early 2000s.
  • Boston's not alone — that's the most likely description of a jobless person in most of the 130 largest U.S. cities and counties (it's the same in Manhattan, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee just to name a few).

But the solutions that work for these cities might be less apt for the jobless in:

  • San Francisco, where they are most likely to be highly educated, engaged, and younger
  • or in Seattle, where they are probably educated, older, and with a high income.

Bottom line: The responsibility is with local officials to tailor get-back-to-work programs to local realities, and not national models.