Published: June 14, 2021

Kospentaris, I., & Stratton, L. S. (2021). ‘The Evolution of Labor Market Disparities Between Black, Hispanic, and White Men: 1968-2019’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2021-08. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.


Ioannis Kospentaris & Leslie S. Stratton

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2021-08


Non-technical Summary

Black and Hispanic men in the United States have long experienced substantial disparities in employment and earnings as compared to their white counterparts.  In this paper, we use Census data from 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990; American Community Survey data from 2000 through 2019; and Current Population Survey data from 1968 through 2019 to document how such disparities have evolved over time.  Analysis is conducted separately by year using a simple framework that controls only for age and education.  Though these data sets that have been put together by different agencies following somewhat different procedures, the results are remarkably similar.

We find that, as compared with White non-Hispanics, Black non-Hispanic men working full-time (35+ hours per week) and full year (50+ weeks per year) experienced some earnings gains prior to 1980.  However, since 1980 both Black non-Hispanics and White Hispanics have suffered a persistent earnings disadvantage of 20 to 25% relative to White non-Hispanics.  As regards employment, Black men have experienced no substantial improvement over time, but Hispanic men have increased their participation such that by 2000 Hispanic men were on average more likely to be employed as compared to White men.  These differential employment patterns are reflected in total personal income.  Black men, after some gains prior to 1980, have flatlined, stabilizing at an average 35% lower level then their white counterparts.  Hispanic men have instead narrowed the gap from a 25% disparity in the 1990’s to about a 15% gap in 2019 – still a disadvantage, but much reduced.  While savings are difficult to measure, we were able to examine home ownership rates.  The disparity in home ownership rates has diminished a bit for Hispanics, but increased for Blacks, mirroring their overall employment disparities and suggesting that a substantial population, particularly of Blacks, lacks the ability to self-insure and smooth their consumption in the face of adverse shocks, such as Covid-19.

The large sample sizes available in these data sets allowed us to delve a bit deeper.  We first divided the samples by education level.  The disparities in full-time, full-year earnings are surprisingly similar across education groups.  If anything, the more educated are experiencing increased disparities.  This result provides a cautionary note for policy makers: simply providing more education seems unlikely to have a large impact on earnings disparities.  Distinguishing between Hispanic immigrants and natives reveals that while native Hispanics fare better than Blacks, many of the employment and earnings gains are attributable to Hispanic immigrants.  The bulk of these immigrants are not relying solely on social welfare.