Just The Typical American Negro

Disappointing Facts about the Black-White Wage Gap
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The black line plots the average percent earnings gap in each year, and the bars show the contribution to the gap from each factor; we include observable measures of differences in age, education, industry and occupation, state of residence, and part-time job status. The red portions of the bars show the part of the gaps unexplained by these factors.

The results highlight a number of crucial points about the earnings gap between black and white workers. First, a sizable portion of the black-white wage gap comes from the fact that blacks and whites work in different industries and occupations light blue bars. This sorting matters because different jobs have different levels of labor productivity, primarily related to the amount of capital that workers use in production. For example, drilling and mining, which use a lot of machines and equipment, are industries with high productivity occupations, whereas retail and other services, which rely relatively more on people than machines, have lower productivity.

Controlling for differences in the types of jobs in which blacks and whites work explains about 9 percentage points of the annual gap for men and about 5 percentage points of the annual gap for women. The importance of these differences in industry and occupation composition has declined over time, especially for women, as the distributions of black and white workers in different types of jobs have grown more equal.

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That said, these differences continue to be a notable factor in the wage gap between blacks and whites. The second largest contributor is differences in educational attainment medium blue bars. For black men, the contribution of education has changed little over time, explaining about 5 percentage points of the total earnings gap.

For women, the contribution from educational differences has risen in importance over time, explaining about 2 percentage points of the gap in but more than 5 percentage points of the gap in The remaining measurable variables that capture differences in age, part-time status, and state of residence have only a modest impact on the wage gaps of black men and women. The most important fact highlighted by our decomposition is that a significant portion of the wage gap between blacks and whites is not traceable to differences in easily measured characteristics, but rather is unexplained within our model red bars.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the growth in this unexplained portion accounts for almost all of the growth in the gaps over time. For example, in about 8 percentage points of the earnings gap for men was unexplained by readily measurable factors, accounting for over a third of the gap. By , this portion had risen to almost 13 percentage points, just under half of the total earnings gap. A similar pattern holds for black women, who saw the gaps between their wages and those of their white counterparts more than triple over this time to 18 percentage points in , largely due to factors outside of our model.

This implies that factors that are harder to measure—such as discrimination, differences in school quality, or differences in career opportunities—are likely to be playing a role in the persistence and widening of these gaps over time. Notably, our results are similar to those of Cajner et al. For example, one might worry that comparing the average black worker to the average white worker hides important gains made in the wage gaps for more highly educated black workers, which could imply in turn that policies should focus on expanding educational attainment. To investigate this possibility, Figure 3 shows the percent shortfall in earnings for black men and women relative to white men and women by educational attainment.

The bars reflect wage gaps averaged over three to year periods. The results are striking. Compared with the rest of the nationally representative polling sample, progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree.

And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country. But since the survey question did not define political correctness for respondents, we cannot be sure what, exactly, the 80 percent of Americans who regard it as a problem have in mind.

There is, however, plenty of additional support for the idea that the social views of most Americans are not nearly as neatly divided by age or race as is commonly believed.

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According to the Pew Research Center, for example, only 26 percent of black Americans consider themselves liberal. The results were striking: Nearly all of my followers underestimated the extent to which most Americans reject political correctness. Only 6 percent gave the right answer. When I asked them how people of color regard political correctness, their guesses were, unsurprisingly, even more wildly off. Obviously, my followers on Twitter are not a representative sample of America.

So the fact that we are so widely off the mark in our perception of how most people feel about political correctness should probably also make us rethink some of our other basic assumptions about the country.

Jenny Bourne, Carleton College

It is obvious that certain elements on the right mock instances in which political correctness goes awry in order to win the license to spew outright racial hatred. And it is understandable that, in the eyes of some progressives, this makes anybody who dares to criticize political correctness a witting tool of—or a useful idiot for—the right. Indeed, while 80 percent of Americans believe that political correctness has become a problem in the country, even more, 82 percent, believe that hate speech is also a problem.

It turns out that while progressive activists tend to think that only hate speech is a problem, and devoted conservatives tend to think that only political correctness is a problem, a clear majority of all Americans holds a more nuanced point of view: They abhor racism. The study should also make progressives more self-critical about the way in which speech norms serve as a marker of social distinction. David Frum: Every culture appropriates. For the millions upon millions of Americans of all ages and all races who do not follow politics with rapt attention, and who are much more worried about paying their rent than about debating the prom dress worn by a teenager in Utah, contemporary callout culture merely looks like an excuse to mock the values or ignorance of others.

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