Think about those who have been left behind in the economy, and you might picture the white working class. Much has been said since the election about the plight of former manufacturing workers in the Rust Belt who can no longer find good-paying jobs.
The focus makes sense: President-elect Donald Trump was lifted into office by white adults over 25 without a four-year degree, who favored him by a margin of 39 percentage points. Their economic frustration and suffering are real, and white working-class America is a large group – 42 percent of the country.
Yet month after month, economic data show that African Americans and Hispanics in the United States are, on average, in a worse position.
Jobs data released last week put the white unemployment rate in December at 4.3 percent, compared with 7.8 percent for African Americans and 5.9 percent for Hispanics.
“Even just looking at one month, we can say that the economy disproportionately has worse outcomes for workers of color,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
While African American workers maintain the highest unemployment rate overall, Hispanics have the dubious distinction of being the group that is still furthest from recovering from their pre-recession unemployment levels. Though these values can fluctuate month to month, the Hispanic unemployment rate remains more than a full percentage point above its pre-recession low in October 2006, a bigger difference than for whites and African Americans.
Here's how those figures look for just the working class — defined as those with less than a bachelor's degree — in 2015. The unemployment rate for African Americans with only high school education remains far above other groups.
Data on worker earnings shows a similar story about racial inequality, says Gould.
“If you were to look at worker wage data, you’d see that white workers make more by almost any measure than other groups, especially black and Hispanic workers.”
Recent reports have revealed troubling facts about the wage gap. Census data analyzed by the National Women’s Law Center shows that, while women overall make only 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man, the wage gap yawns when race and ethnicity enter into the picture. Latina women make only 54 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man, while African American women make 63 cents, the report says.
And while the gap between the black-white unemployment rate has narrowed in past decades, the gap between wages earned by black and white workers has not. Another report on the wage gap authored by Valerie Wilson and William M. Rodgers III of EPI in December showed that the black-white wage gap has actually grown in the United States compared with what it was in 1979.
Wage gaps are increasing primarily due to lingering discrimination, racial differences in unobserved or unmeasured skills, and the impact of incarceration on African Americans, as well as growing inequality in general, Wilson and Rodgers say. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that exacerbates the difference in earnings between racial and ethnic groups.
Disturbingly, this wage gap is expanding even though African Americans are attending college at higher rates, they write. Wilson and Rodgers calculate that a black male college graduate entering the workforce in the early 1980s had less than a 10 percent wage disadvantage relative to white college graduate, but that by 2014 the deficit had grown to 18 percent.