Racial Wage Gaps in the South

May 10th, 2013

A recent post examines wages through the lens of gender in Mississippi. Differences in wages between men and women are not the only ones that exist within the state. Mississippi’s median wage gap between white and African American workers is larger than the gap between men and women. In 2012, the median wage for white workers registered at $16.97 while the median wage for African American workers was $11.44 - a difference of $5.53.

The table looks at these 2012 wage levels for many Southern states. Wages for white and African American workers are highest in Georgia. The median wage for white workers was lowest in Arkansas and for African American workers was lowest in Mississippi.

The gap between the white and African American wage was largest in Mississippi where the median wage equaled 67% of the white wage last year. The gap means that for every $3 earned by the median or ‘middle’ white worker, an African American worker earns $2. Nationally, the median African American worker earns $3 for every $4 earned by a white worker.

In Mississippi, the median wage for African Americans has hovered around 70% of the median wage for white workers for more than two decades with little change.  The trend means that wages for both groups have advanced at the same pace for 20 years, with African American workers not gaining ground on their white counterparts.

The racial wage gap has significant implications for families, children and the state’s greater prosperity. As the differences in wages earned persist, so do differences in household income and poverty levels by race. These trends are not unique to Mississippi, but the data suggest that the differences are more severe than the nation and Southern states. Being intentional about considering these racial and economic divisions in workforce development, asset development, and education policy remain critical for the economic success of the state in the future.

Author: Sarah Welker, Senior Policy Analyst

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