- - Tuesday, August 11, 2020

There is a piece of the American dream for everyone willing to work for it. Sadly, Black Americans find their piece to be a little smaller than that of their White neighbors. As the nation weathers a summer of social turmoil, a tool for erasing the economic component of racial disparity is already making a difference. The growing practice of refraining from using salary history in hiring decisions is helping to close the wage gap. Call it systemic racial recompense.

Prior pay questions in the job application process enacted in 14 states during the past three years have resulted in “substantial pay increases” of 13% for Blacks taking new jobs, according to a study published in June by Boston University. Women have also benefited, with salary increases of 8%. Over recent years, dozens of states and municipalities have banned salary history queries, which provided employers with a rationale for offering less compensation for prospective employees who have been stuck with skimpy pay in the past.

The wage gaps among various U.S. demographic groups are no illusion and have been most harmful to Blacks. Analyzing 1.8 million employee profiles from 2017 to 2019, PayScale, a compensation data firm, found that Black men receive 87 cents for every dollar earned by their White counterparts. Native-American and Hispanic men fare a little better, collecting 91 cents for every dollar. Pacific Islanders are paid 95 cents, and Asians surpass them all by earning $1.15 for every dollar earned by their caucasian co-workers. If “White privilege” is a real thing, it’s no match for the Asian work ethic.

At first glance, the pay differentials are disturbing, especially in a nation that has placed a Black man in the White House and other talented Black Americans on the highest pedestals in the entertainment and sports worlds. However, when compensation is compared for men with the same education and experience doing the same job in the same location, the pay gap closes considerably. Then, Black men receive 98 cents for every dollar their White counterparts earn. Native-Americans and Hispanics are paid 99 cents, Pacific Islanders collect the same buck as the White men, and the perennially top-earning Asians only get an extra 2 cents.

It may seem like a fading dream now, but prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation was experiencing what The Wall Street Journal called “the best African-American job market on record.” Most notably, Black household income growth actually outperformed that of White households in most major metropolitan areas between 2013 and 2018, according to the Brookings Institute. San Francisco saw a jump in Black household income of 36%, says Brookings, and Seattle recorded a boost of 31%.

The coronavirus-triggered economic collapse halted the march toward economic equality, pushing Black unemployment from a near-record low of 5.8% in February to 16.8% in May. White joblessness also exploded, surging from 3.1% to 14.2%. As the virus has receded, the job market has improved. White unemployment has dropped to 9.2%, but the rate for Blacks has only fallen to 14.6%.

For all the current recriminations over race, the United States stacks up well against incidences of income inequality in other developed nations with substantial minority populations. In Great Britain, the median hourly wage for Black African, Caribbean and Black British residents measured 91% of the rate for White British in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics. None of those demographic groups can match their Asian counterparts, though. Wages for Chinese residents averaged 31% higher than Whites, and Indians raked in 12% more.

In Canada, a 2010 study by the Conference Board of Canada found a 19.6% wage gap between caucasians and Blacks. A less granular report based on Canada’s 2016 census lumping all non-White men together found they earned 78 cents for every dollar paid to their White co-workers, while non-White women earned only 59 cents. Even during the fat years before the pandemic, America’s northern neighbor did not show clear progress in shrinking its vast income gap.

Anger over racial injustice, amplified by coronavirus fears, have echoed through 2020’s summer of indignation. As raw emotion inevitably gives way for the human need for normalcy, Americans should applaud the trend, boosted by salary-history bans, that is bestowing on Blacks the recompense denied them by past racial discrimination.

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