Black Staff Stopped Making Progress on Pay. Is It Racism?


Consider information technology, which offers some of the highest paying jobs in the country. African Americans earn about one in ten bachelor’s degrees in computer science nationwide. In contrast, in the San Francisco area, including Silicon Valley, they make up only 2.6 out of 100 computer workers.

Despite the references many African Americans have in the field, Dr. Spriggs in an interview: “Silicon Valley says, ‘Yes, but they don’t qualify.'”

But despite all the evidence of racial differences, many economists say that employers’ racial prejudices cannot fully explain what goes on in the workplace. The notion that discrimination alone determined the fate of black workers at work – their employment and their wages – does not fit with how American society has changed over the past half century.

Put simply, if racism is the reason black workers have lagged behind in pay, said Erik Hurst, professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, how is it that they made such advances after World War II and the wage gap with whites while segregation and other explicit barriers were still widespread? And why did this progress stop despite the fact that racialism has decreased through various measures over the years?

For example, the proportion of whites advocating interracial marriage rose to 87 percent in 2013 when Gallup last asked the question, from 48 percent in 1965. The proportion of whites who said they voted for a black presidential candidate , rose to 96 percent in 2020 from 77 percent in 1983 and 38 percent in 1958. Answers to many other questions from the General Social Survey, a long-standing academic effort to understand the views of Americans, suggest that racial bias have declined over the past few decades.

Most of the profits African Americans made in the workplace were made in the 1940s through 1970s, when racial prejudice was much more prevalent in society. Then they got stuck.

“There was a rapprochement between blacks and whites, but then it stopped,” said Dr. Hurst, who is also the deputy director of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, which sponsors a podcast I host. “The question is why.”