The Washington Post

Racial imbalance exists all across local governments, not just in police departments

The police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and the citizens they see as they stare through their gun-sights look dramatically different. Two-thirds of the approximately 21,000 residents of Ferguson, the small suburb of St. Louis, are African American. About 95 percent of the officers sworn to protect them are white.

That disparity is hardly unusual, both in police departments across the country and in other local government agencies.

Whites are more likely to hold jobs with local governments than African Americans, Hispanics or other non-white minorities. Whites are much more likely to hold high-paying jobs within those governments.

(Related: Where minority communities have overwhelmingly white police)

And while the disparity between white and non-white employment has narrowed over the last half century, with the implementation of anti-discrimination laws and the country’s increasing diversity, it remains the fact that whites are employed more, and at higher wages, than their non-white counterparts.


Source: The Urban Institute. Click through for an interactive version.

Start with police departments themselves. In a country in which 64 percent of the population is white, according to the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows almost 75 percent of full-time sworn law enforcement personnel are white (The New Republic first pulled this data from a BJS publication).

African Americans make up 12 percent of law enforcement agencies, just about in line with their 12.2 percent share of the population. In police departments, it’s Hispanic officers who are the most underrepresented: Though they account for 16 percent of the population, just 10.3 percent of law enforcement officers are Hispanic.

Smaller cities tend to have much less diverse police populations, which is not terribly surprising given that smaller cities tend to have higher percentages of white residents (Ferguson is a relatively rare example of a small city with an overwhelmingly non-white population). In cities with fewer than 100,000 residents, more than 80 percent of law enforcement officers are white.

In other government agencies, too, whites are overrepresented among higher-wage earners. Whites make up 74.8 percent of high-wage earners in local government agencies, 10 points higher than their share of the population. Blacks make up 11.2 percent of those high-wage earners; Hispanics account for just 8.8 percent, about half their actual representation in the general population, according to a study conducted by Census Bureau historian Todd Gardner for the Urban Institute.


Source: The Urban Institute. Click through for an interactive version.

“While high-wage local government employment has become more diverse over time and has generally paralleled the increasing diversity of the population, keeping up with the rapid pace of diversification has been a longstanding challenge for local government employment,” Gardner wrote.

The percentage of minorities in local government increased dramatically after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of race. In 1960, blacks made up just 4 percent of high-wage government employees, a little more than one-third the percentage they account for today. Blacks made up 9.8 percent of low-wage government workers in 1960, and they make up 17.1 percent today. Hispanics went from 2.3 percent of the low-wage government workforce in 1960 to 15.1 percent today.

In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, the disparity is even more stark: Whites make up 57.8 percent of the population in those cities, and 69.7 percent of high-wage jobs. By contrast, blacks make up 13.8 percent of the population and account for 20.6 percent of low earning jobs.

Mainly, it’s Hispanic and Asian American populations missing out on government jobs. While the proportion of African Americans in high-wage jobs has equalized in recent decades, other non-white populations remain significantly below proportional representation.


Source: The Urban Institute. Click through for an interactive version.

Government positions, which usually come with stability and good benefits, have long been a route to upward social mobility, Gardner wrote. Even half a century after the Civil Rights Act, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans remain at a disadvantage in getting those jobs — especially in police departments.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.