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College Grads Earn More, But Racial Disparities Persist

Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree earned almost twice as much as those with just a high school diploma, but income disparities across racial and gender lines persist, according to U.S. Census Bureau data being released today. 

The data tables in “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2005” indicate bachelor-degree holders earned an average $51,554 in 2004, compared to $28,645 earned by high school graduates and the $19,169 earned by those without a high school diploma.

Across all educational backgrounds, Black and Hispanic workers tended to earn less than their White and Asian counterparts, according to the data. Black high school graduates earned $23,498 compared to $25,823 earned by Hispanics, $28,289 earned by Asians and $30,197 earned by Whites. 

Even having a bachelor’s degree did not equalize earnings across races. Blacks with bachelor’s degrees earned $42,342 while Whites earned $53,411, Asians earned $47,912 and Hispanics earned $45,166. Blacks with doctoral degrees earned $82,615 compared to $94,426 earned by non-Hispanic Whites.

More women than men reported holding at least an associate’s degree, but women did not outpace men in earnings. On average, women with bachelor’s degrees earn 61 percent of what men with the same educational attainment earn.

Not surprised by the data, Dr. William Spriggs, chair of the Economics Department at Howard University, says African-Americans tend to earn 25 percent less than other groups when education is controlled. Women continue to face occupational discrimination, being segregated in positions that pay less than other positions requiring the same level of education, such as teaching and nursing, he adds.

Spriggs says the income disparities can’t be explained away with achievement gaps, the theory that Blacks would earn less in the marketplace because they’re not as skilled as demonstrated by lower test scores. Previous analyses indicate the annual earnings of Blacks are less than that of Whites with the same test scores, Spriggs says.

“I think you’re looking at discrimination in pay,” he adds. “A college grad would have to know more than a high school graduate. How is it that White men with just a high school diploma earn more than a Hispanic woman with a college degree?”

White men with a high school diploma earn, on average, $36,324 while women have to have a bachelor’s degree to reach parity in pay. Even with a degree, Hispanic women made, $34,949, less than White men with only a high school education, while White women earned $39,161 and Black women earned $38,626.

Dr. Roderick Harrison, director of Databank at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and an associate professor of sociology at Howard, says factors contributing to racial pay disparities include regional differences in pay, types of degrees earned as well as discrimination.    

“The key thing is this, if you’re a Black male or a Black female, getting additional education will considerably improve your life. Education is worth it since you open yourself up to higher paying jobs and higher lifetime earnings,” Harrison says. “If you’re comparing yourself to your White classmates, you do have difficulty converting the same educational level into comparable earnings. That is an area where we have not seen changes.”

The Census data tables also show that Hispanics had the lowest proportion of adults with a high school diploma or higher at 59 percent, compared to 90 percent of Whites holding a diploma or degree. Some 88 percent of Asians have earned a diploma or degree while 81 percent of Blacks have.

Utah, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire and Alaska have the highest proportion of adults with a diploma or degree at 92 percent. The District of Columbia had the highest proportion of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree at 47 percent, followed by Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.

The data came from an annual survey of 100,000 households nationwide conducted each spring on social and economic issues.  

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