the prospects for racial equality in labor-market status—Are we moving toward equality of opportunity and access?

The experiences of the many racial and ethnic groups represented in the U.S. labor market are individually unique; however, time, space, and data limitations preclude describing each group at the same level of detail. The guiding principle was first to identify interesting trends, then analyze the position of the groups involved in those trends. In some instances, there were too few data or there is too little available research on the experience of a particular group to offer substantive insights.


There is ample anecdotal evidence of historical employment discrimination. Before 1960, it was difficult for a Black woman to get a job as a clerical worker whatever her credentials. Goldin (1990) observes that the only employers of Black clerical workers were Black-owned insurance companies and Montgomery Ward, then exclusively a mail-order business. In a 1940 Women’s Bureau survey, more than 50 percent of employers reported that they had a company policy against hiring Black women as clerical workers (Goldin, 1990). Weaver’s classic study of the plight of Black labor documents the exclusion of Blacks from skilled blue-collar jobs, particularly in the South (Weaver, 1946). During World War II, Black women were urged to help the war effort by taking jobs as domestic servants so that White women would be free to work in manufacturing jobs (Jones, 1985b). Discriminatory employment practices and segregation by occupation and industry were extensive, and contributed to differences in pay structure and indirectly to the Black-White female pay gap

Earnings Inequality

During the 1960s and the 1970s, the median earnings of Black women increased relative to earnings of White women, White men, and Black men (Figure 6–1). Black/White female wages came closest to parity in 1975; from 1980 to 1996, the earnings of Black women relative to those of White women fell. Young Black women, in particular, have seen a reduction in relative earnings (Blau and Beller, 1992; McCrate and Leete, 1994). Blau and Beller (1992) found a reduction in the wages of young Black women, following an adjustment for selectivity bias—in other words, observed wages understate the extent of the wage gap because young Black women with the largest skill deficits had dropped out of the labor market.

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