RELEASE: African Americans Face Systematic Obstacles to Getting Good Jobs

Washington, D.C. — Ahead of tomorrow’s November jobs report, a new Center for American Progress brief looks at the reasons why the employment rates of African American workers have remained persistently lower than those of white workers. This gap has existed over decades, even in periods of low unemployment, and persists across all education levels. The brief also finds that the racial wealth gap has widened since the Great Recession. Prior to the recession, Black families had on average one-fourth the total wealth of white families. Now, Black families have one-fifth the wealth of white families. Overall, African Americans are more likely to be unemployed, have access to fewer job opportunities, receive less pay and fewer employer-sponsored benefits, and hold less stable jobs.

The brief examines several reasons for the persistent Black-white wealth and jobs gap:

  • Black women face unique difficulties in the labor market. While they are more likely than white women to work, they often face more difficulty in finding a job and are consistently paid less than their white female and male counterparts. These disparities exist at all levels, regardless of education levels, and are fueled by systemic barriers frequently rooted in race and gender bias. The disparities have an enormous impact, especially given that Black women are disproportionately more likely than other women to be breadwinners providing substantial support to their families: More than 80 percent of Black women are sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families.
  • Black workers have less access to jobs than white workers. The employed share of prime-age Black and white workers peaked in the 1990s. Even a decade after the Great Recession, Black workers face more impediments than white workers to finding jobs, making it harder for Black workers to save.
  • Black workers have fewer well-paying, stable jobs with decent benefits than white workers. Black workers, for example, typically get paid a great deal less than white workers. The typical median weekly earnings for Black full-time employees was $727 from July 2019 to September 2019, compared with $943 for whites. African Americans also receive fewer employer-provided benefits than whites and wind up in occupations and industries with far less job security, such as working as home health aides.
  • Black workers feel the impacts of a recession more intensely than white workers. In a phenomenon known as “last hired, first fired,” African American workers tend to disappear sooner when the economy sours and return later when the economy improves.

“The systematic discrimination that African Americans face in the labor market make it even more difficult for Black families to build wealth, while increasing their need for savings,” said Christian Weller, senior fellow at CAP and author of the brief. “While stable, well-paying jobs are important, because of the systematic and deeply entrenched nature of the racial wealth gap, it’s clear that a job is not enough to close the gap. Rather, policymakers need to utilize a variety of bold, intentional policy solutions that address the varied and complex nature of the problem.”

Click here to read the issue brief: “African Americans Face Systematic Obstacles to Getting Good Jobs” by Christian E. Weller

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at or 202-495-3682.