Black Workers Have Made Sizable Gains in Education and Good Jobs
By Anthony P. Carnevale
Black History Month honors the achievements of Black Americans while acknowledging the systemic racism that has fueled inequality of opportunity in this country. Despite equity issues in the education pipeline and discrimination in the workforce, many Black students and workers have persisted and flourished.
Black workers have made significant gains in the past few decades. Two educational pathways to good jobs have been key to their success: the middle-skills pathway — which includes education and training beyond high school short of a bachelor’s degree; and the bachelor’s degree pathway — which includes bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, professional degrees, and doctoral degrees.
Between 1991 and 2016, Black workers on these two pathways gained nearly 5 million jobs, offsetting 1 million jobs lost on the high school pathway:
- 2.2 million job gains on the middle-skills pathway, and
- 2.7 million job gains on the bachelor’s degree pathway.
Of the jobs Black workers gained on the middle-skills and bachelor’s degree pathways, 2.6 million were good jobs. Good jobs are those that pay at least $35,000 per year; in 2016, good jobs had a median pay of $65,000. The 200,000 good jobs lost on the high school pathway were offset by a gain of 700,000 good jobs on the middle-skills pathway and 1.9 million good jobs on the bachelor’s degree pathway.
Black workers’ share of jobs on the middle-skills and bachelor’s degree pathways increased steadily over the same time period. Between 1991 and 2016, among Black workers:
- the share on the middle-skills pathway rose from 16 percent to 30 percent,
- the share on the bachelor’s degree pathway rose from 25 percent to 34 percent, and
- the share on the high school pathway declined from 59 percent to 36 percent.
By 2016, Black workers on the bachelor’s degree pathway held 51 percent of all good jobs held by Black workers, and those on the middle-skills pathway held 30 percent. The continued growth of the middle-skills and bachelor’s degree pathways represents opportunity for Black workers to upskill amid the structural shift toward skilled-services industries.
Higher levels of education and access to good jobs lead to higher earnings. Between 1991 and 2016, Black workers gained an aggregate $245 billion in earnings from good jobs.
These accomplishments are no small feat and should be celebrated every month, not just during Black History Month. They also remind us of how far Black Americans have come and how far our nation still must go to improve equity and fight racial injustice. Our push for change will extend beyond February as our research unearths ongoing challenges facing Black Americans in the education pipeline and labor force.
CEW is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy. It studies the links among education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.