Researchers Fault Mass Incarceration for Black-White Wage Gap Returning to 1950’s Levels
Black labor has become superfluous in the US economy, and the ruling class is responding with more incarceration and police oppression, says Glen Ford
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. The income, wage and wealth gaps are turning into chasms, with income inequality becoming far more pronounced in this gilded age of the 21st Century. Now, while there have been sporadic gains in very specific demographics, the black-white gap remains pretty stark. A new study authored by economists at the University of Chicago has found that the black-white earnings gap remains at 1950’s levels for median workers.
And to discuss this, the results of the study and some of their statistical methodology, we’re joined with Glen Ford. He is the co-founder and Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. He joins us today from Plainfield, New Jersey. Glen, thanks for being here.
GLEN FORD: Oh, thank you for having me.
KIM BROWN: So, Glen, one of the study’s authors, who was a guy by the name of Kerwin Charles. He’s an economist. He says, “It’s astounding that in terms of economic rank, a black man in the middle of this economic distribution, is no closer to his white counterpart in terms of earnings, than was his grandfather.” Glen, talk to us about what this study found.
GLEN FORD: Yeah, that is something. You know, smart-alecks will say, “It’s not your grandfather’s economy.” But if you’re a black man, in some ways, you are living your grandfather’s economy, at the bottom of the scale. That study done by these two researchers, was based on Federal data that’s been gathered from 1940’s or so, all the way through the Great Recession. They found that there has been great progress for black men as earners at the top 10% of the black wage spectrum. And for this relatively small group the earnings between blacks and whites has narrowed considerably.
In fact, there’s only a few percentage points between them. But that’s only for that 10%. For most blacks, for black men at the base of the pyramid, and in the middle of the pyramid, there’s been no change relatively, compared to white men. For those blacks in the top 10%, the increased opportunities in higher education are credited with that limited progress for that small group of people.
And the researchers also gave credit to a government program for keeping the masses of black wage earners down at the bottom. And that government program is mass black incarceration. They blame much of this 60 years of stagnation in the wage differential between blacks and whites on the incarceration of millions of black men, and also of course, on the collapse of manufacturing, which really harmed a prime source of jobs for blue-collar black men.
But even the general gains in education that have been made for black people — that is, more blacks by far are graduating from high school than in many previous generations — even that has not changed the fact that black unemployment, for example, is stuck at two times the level of whites and it’s been so, well, certainly since the mid-’60’s. That is, that’s because even though many more black men are graduating from high school, you need more than a high school diploma to get a good job in today’s society.
One of the interesting things about this study is that they used a methodology in which they assigned the value of zero to those men who were not making an economic contribution, and of course, everybody in prison got zeros, and also of course, folks who were unemployed.
The black brothers who have stayed rooted at the bottom for the last 60 years are far more numerous, there are far more zeros in the black side of the column, than there are in the white side of the column.
And all of this tends to confirm the analysis of many of us in the black left, who maintained that black labor has become superfluous in the US economy. That the US economy does not need black labor any more. And that only encourages the rulers of this country to treat the entire black presence in the United States as a problem, and that they respond to this problem, with more black mass incarceration and more police oppression.
Now, in terms of how the black community itself deals with this problem, it’s kind of obvious. The black family becomes more dependent upon women. There are less zeros on that side of the column, as well. And there’s another new study that just came out, which shows that 70% of black women are the sole or primary breadwinners in their family. For white women the figure is only 37%. So, we see that compared with white women, black women are twice as likely to be bearing the entire economic burden for their families as white women are.
KIM BROWN: And that’s a very interesting point for you to raise, Glen, because a lot of times in the discussion about equal pay we hear the statistic of women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. But, buried within that statistic is this really important caveat that that specific gap refers to how white women earn compared to white men.
When you factor in what black women and Latino women earn comparatively to white men, I believe that number falls down into the 60-cent range for black women and 50-some cents for Latino women as compared to what a white man earns for every dollar. So, as you said that black women are overwhelmingly the head of household. So, it’s quite obvious that black women are being grossly underpaid compared to their white counterparts and are often times shouldering the entire burden financially for that household.
GLEN FORD: And are harmed much more by the lack of societal support for working women than white women are because black families are much more dependent upon those black working women.
KIM BROWN: And, what I also found pretty interesting about the study that you referenced from the University of Chicago, I mean, not only are these zeros in this study being used to account for incarcerated black men, but it’s the time of their life that they are seeming to be incarcerated the most, is at their peak earning years, Glen.
GLEN FORD: Yes, and during those peak earning years they are earning nothing, which means that even if they do succeed in getting employment after they’re out of prison, they will never peak. They will always be marginal. It’s a lifetime sentence as many have pointed out. And that is a lifetime sentence for the community as a whole and for the children that they have as well.
KIM BROWN: So, Glen, what I found interesting is that, you know, there’s been a number of these studies similar to the one coming out of the University of Chicago. The Economic Policy Institute released a study earlier this year that indicated that the wage gap, again, between black and white is at its worst disparities than in 40 years. But at the same time we’ve seen African-Americans, particularly black women, achieve higher education at really astounding rates. But at the same time this wage gap, this earnings gap, this wealth gap doesn’t seem to be closing Glen, why is that?
GLEN FORD: Well, these are structural problems, as they say. That is, every time there is a breakthrough, for example, breakthroughs in education and breakthroughs in even black mobility, that is black folks having access geographically to other opportunities, those opportunities then disintegrate because corporations restructure the way they make money. And we are almost always, in fact, I only say almost ’cause I can’t think of any instance where we are not at the tail end of those changes, those restructurings. That’s a euphemistic word.
KIM BROWN: So, Glen, and the interesting part about this is that we’ve seen a lot of these gaps exacerbate or come to a head during the Obama Administration. So, you know, we had an African-American President. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was putting forth policies to benefit specifically African-Americans. But now we’re about to have almost the opposite of Obama in President-elect Donald Trump. So, where do we expect these gaps to go in at least the coming term of his first administration?
GLEN FORD: Well, in terms of Trump, it’s speculative. But in terms of what will be the harvest of the Obama years, and of the Great Recession – and we have to, even though Obama came in with the beginning of the Great Recession, it was he who dealt with the Great Recession and the way industry was restructured after the recession. And with the disappearance of such dramatic swaths of black wealth, all of that will have the deepest repercussions, deep into the economic future of Black America because people don’t have any resources to send their kids to higher education, in an economy in which the State does not pay for it. And that’s going to have drastic and uniformly negative effects on black mobility. Even from this low and sickening base that we operate from.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been speaking with Glen Ford. He is the co-founder and Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. He’s been speaking to us today from Plainfield, New Jersey. Glen, we appreciate your time, thank you.
GLEN FORD: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.