Black-White employment gaps drag on

Since the recession dropped Black women’s employment rates below White women’s, the new gap persists. And for men it’s widening.

When last we checked, Black women had an employment rate about 1% lower than White women, which was a reversal of their status before the recession. No progress to report.

The news on unemployment doesn’t dwell on this disparity, maybe (charitably) since it’s such old news. As of September, both groups are trending downward, and the gap is 0.7%.

Source: My chart from BLS data.

In contrast, Black men had lower employment rates before the recession (62% v. 72% in October 2008). But the drop has still been greater for Black men.

Source: My chart from BLS data.

Note that, given the uncertainty in unemployment benefits and the propensity to be discouraged during the jobless recovery, I prefer to follow employment rates rather than unemployment (officially searching) rates.

Marriage and divorce disparities

Pairing up and paring down, by race/ethnicity and class.

Social scientists have been talking about a “retreat from marriage” for at least 20 years. The overall pattern is a decline in marriage and rise in cohabitation, a delay in marriage to later ages, and high rates of divorce (even though overall divorce rates are well below their historic highs, they remain high).

With the possible exception of divorce (for now), the recession seems to be hurrying this process along dramatically, as has been widely reported. As usual, there is a symbolic milestone to point out: never-married 25-34-year-olds now outnumber those currently married for the first time.

Source: My graph from Census data reported here.

The National Center for Marriage and Family Research just released two quick reports based on the latest American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, one on divorce and one on marriage.  To me the most dramatic contrast in those reports is the race-ethnic divide, apparent in both marriage rates, which show African Americans with by far the fewest marriages per never-married woman…

…and by far the highest rates of divorce (expressed as divorces per 1,000 women in first marriages):

These wide race-ethnic disparities are partly explained by income and education differences. A new report from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) shows that the “retreat from marriage” is much more pronounced among those who haven’t finished college — especially in the last 20 years.

Still, the causal stories are not so simple, as recent academic reviews of both marriage and divorce make clear.

One issue beyond income and education is the within-race gender imbalances in urban areas with high concentrations of African Americans — which, combined with low rates of intermarriage, make for very tough marriage markets for Black women:

Number of Employed, Unmarried Men per 100 Unmarried Women, Ages 25-34: 2009-2011.

Source: American Community Survey data from IPUMS. Note: Whites are single-race and exclude Latinos; Blacks are alone or in combination with other races.

The PRB report is pessimistic about the consequences of this recent rapid change:

…most researchers agree that marriage also has an independent, positive effect on well-being. Therefore, the recent decline in marriage may contribute to worse outcomes for less educated individuals [and their children -PNC], beyond those resulting from the recent recession.

Using politics and policy reverse long-term tides in marriage and family behavior is not effective. And attempting to build/rebuild families to address the consequences of poverty and isolation risks contributing to bad things — including stigmatizing gays/lesbians and single parents, and ignoring the needs of those who have no families. The retreat from marriage is only as harmful as the social circumstances of non-marriage, which are mutable.

Single, Black and middle class

My friend Kris Marsh, who was a post-doctoral scholar here at UNC and is now on the faculty at U. of Maryland at College Park, is featured in a Washington Post story on the Black middle class in Prince George’s County, MD.

The story is about the growing presence of unmarried Black women in the county’s middle class. Kris is an expert in more ways than one, since her research also tracks the Black middle class.

When she was here, she (along with me and several others) published a paper on the growing presence of “Single And Living Alone” households among the Black middle class.

We counted people as middle class according to these criteria:

  1. Someone in the household graduated 4-year college
  2. Living in own home (not renting)
  3. Per-person income above the Black median.
  4. Highest occupation in household exceeds Black median.

Among the Black middle class defined this way, SALAs are a growing presence, especially among those under 35.

Source: New graph from the paper.

The Post article focuses on the local concentration of SALAs in P.G. County. It’s also good timing for the release of Kris’s latest article (with John Iceland), on residential segregation among SALA households.

Black-White employment gap update II

The data for April show that Black women’s employment disadvantage compared with White women widened slightly, to 1%. Before the recession started, Black women were employed at higher rates, by about 1.0-1.5%.

These figures are seasonally adjusted, for women ages 20+. The gist of it is that the down year of 2009 was significantly worse for Black women’s employment rates, as we knew, and the gap has now persisted through four months of 2010. It represents part of a 25-year-pattern of widening Black-White inequality for women.

Making matters worse, practically, unemployment has been highest for unmarried women. And welfare hasn’t kept up with the expanding needs of poor women with children.

In some areas the race-ethnic gaps are especially dramatic. For example, in Washington, D.C., Black women are unemployed at a rate more than 3-times White women.

That is from a report by the Women’s Economic Security Campaign, which includes specific policy suggestions regarding job training, education, and welfare. If the U.S. won’t take the steps necessary to redress these race-ethnic disparities, maybe the U.N. will.

Women in charge at Xerox

As we accumulate material on women in positions of workplace authority, the issue of female top executives comes up. Xerox is one highly visible case. Here are some notes.

By my sophisticated reading of stock price history at Yahoo!, the value of Xerox’s stock fell more than 75% during the 9 years the company was run by Anne Mulcahy, while the S&P 500 fell about 40%. Still, she was credited with leading the fabled “turnaround” at the company, meaning they reached bottom while she was in charge and then turned profitable again. Now the NYTimes profiles her successor, Ursula Burns, who took over last summer.

Despite her relationship with Mulcahy, to hear Burns tell it, she initially rose at Xerox by serving as executive assistant to a series of men, though later her relationship with Mulcahy was pivotal.

Mulcahy worked her way up through human resources at Xerox (where her older brother was a longtime executive), a common occupation for female managers. From that experience, she did not develop into a radical egalitarian, reflecting:

I think sometimes companies get confused with egalitarian processes that they think are the fairest, and that is not what companies need. Companies need to be very selective about identifying talent and investing in those leaders of the future.

Mulcahy is credited with overseeing early work-life experiments when she was in HR at the company, which reportedly served as an unnamed model for the books Finding Time, and Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work. Such experiments reflect the reform-minded view that modern corporations need not be essentially masculinist.

Whatever the merits of those programs, of course, Mulcahy did preside over the “first woman-to-woman transition at a Fortune 500 company,” and Burns is the first Black woman in such a position. And as such success is measured, Xerox claims a good record at the top, with women holding 32% of both executive and professional positions in the U.S. in 2007. Still, I don’t know what benefits have reached those lower down.

Those who have rigorously studied corporate diversity programs report mixed success at best, at least when it comes to diversifying management, although there is always something to cheer for. With regard to the gender of leaders, Matt Huffman and I are among those who have found evidence for an egalitarian effect of female managers on those below them, but we have not studied executives at the highest levels, where the high visibility and shareholder profit demands could have good or bad results — and where gender integration has stalled.

Black women’s employment gap update

Globe and Mail: U.S. sheds 85,000 jobs

When I reported on the economic travails of Black women I included a graph showing the greater employment losses for Black women than White women in the recession.

The December employment report, out today, appears to confirm the still-widening gap in employment losses between Black and White women. I didn’t report on this in November, which is just as well – as you can see from the graph, November looks odd, maybe odd enough to be a simple error on the BLS’s part.

My graph from BLS monthly data (seasonally adjusted).

I do not have an explanation for this. I wish those who have the power to figure these things out would pay more attention to it – and explain it to the rest of us. The numbers are right there for all to see. Black women have lost 4 percentage points of employment, compared with 2.1 points for White women. And that puts White women’s employment rate higher than Black women’s for the first time since the 1990s.

What ails Black women 3: Discrimination and repercussions

Thanks to Huffington Post for the clip art.

After discussing some widening employment inequality between Black and White women, as well as large and in some cases growing health disparities, the final installment of this miniseries turns to news on racial discrimination and its repercussions for Black women, especially those who are poor. Much of the economic and health inequality we find could be the result of discrimination. Here I show some discrimination and its impact in other realms.

Discrimination takes many forms and has many consequences. But, like heavy metals in fish, it appears that is effects cumulate over the lives of its victims. New research on the mental health effects of discrimination – as crudely as this can be measured – is telling.

Our results show that perceptions of unfair treatment, like other chronic stressors, are psychologically burdensome to African American women. … Many women suffer emotionally because they are unable to view themselves as efficacious and competent actors when treated with suspicion and confronted with dehumanizing interactions.

I have been struck by the responses to the earlier posts in this series, which tend to corroborate such research findings. On Huffington Post, one woman wrote:

As a black woman I dread going to work every day. People are blatantly rude and offensive. I have a degree and do substantial work for my company yet they treat me like I’m on work release. There have been times when some people act as though I’m not even there! But as soon as you call them out on their rude behavior you are labeled an angry black woman with an attitude. As a black person it sucks to have to hear people make stereotypical generalizations almost every day. I just keep my head down and stay out of their way. … Every day I step out into the world I am made to feel like less of a person.

In the extreme, consider the poor Black women in the emerging case of missing women in Cleveland and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. In both situations, Black women were murdered but for a long time not reported missing – or not seriously searched for if their absence was noted. The length of time it takes the authorities to respond to your suspicious absence is a brutal but vivid indicator of social isolation.

Elizabeth Smallwood, who was never reported missing, was found dead in Rocky Mount in February, but not identified until October.

In my capacity as a demographer I have long known about the marriage market squeeze Black women feel. Mortality, incarceration and unemployment — compounded by the statistically rare but symbolically damning greater tendency for Black men than women to marry Whites) – leave not enough “marriageable” Black men, especially in urban areas where segregation further limits cross-racial social interaction. I previously showed this for a few major cities:

Number of Employed, Unmarried Men per 100 Unmarried Women, Ages 25-34: 2009-2011.

Source: My analysis of data from the American Community Survey, 2005-2007 2009-2011 (updated and corrected), retrieved from

However, now we know that even in the online dating world, where the playing field could be more level, Black women get the worst results. We recently saw the reply rates for different groups of women on the OK Cupid dating site. Despite roughly equal “compatibility” score matches, Black women got the fewest responses to their inquiries.

Worse still, perhaps, even in a virtual world, where true experiments are more feasible, researchers who varied nothing but the skin and hair color of avatars found that virtual White women were much more likely to receive favors from strangers than virtual Black women.

Why is that worse? That means all the “non-racial” factors that are said to contribute to discrimination in the real world – such as education, cultural background, social skills, etc. – couldn’t have been the mechanism in this experiment. (Thanks to Karl for this lead.)

Demographic and racism factors may also work together. If a demographic scarcity increases the relative sway of Black men in the marriage market, and racism enhances the status of light-skinned versus dark-skinned Black women, then we would expect a pattern in which dark-skinned women are less likely to be married, even controlling for other factors – and that is what Darrick Hamilton and colleagues have found, using one of the few datasets that includes information on actual skin color.

Finally, something to think about regarding consequences. Racial inequality is both individual and collective. So the crushing levels of incarceration, police repression and supervision that Black men endure take a toll on Black communities and families as well. We should pay more attention to the effects on single mothers in particular. For example, 1-in-15 Black children have a parent in prison, compared with less than 1-in-100 White children – and more than 90% of those parents are the fathers.

Source: From Chris Uggen’s blog.

When the father is in prison, 88% of the time the children are cared for by the mother. That all boils down to more than a quarter-million Black mothers raising children whose fathers are not only not present to help (financially or otherwise), but are incarcerated – and will experience the consequences of that forever.

On the other hand

I can’t say why, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, despite all this, Black women questioned by the General Social Survey from 1972 to 2006 show a positive trend toward greater happiness. Black women are catching up with White women, who – despite the reports that “women” are less happy – are the ones driving the happiness trend downward.

Unlike in the economic and health posts, in this tour of discrimination issues I don’t have evidence of increasing discrimination. And of course happiness is not the same as the good things we measure like jobs and income and even health and family stability. I’ll leave that question to those who better understand the dynamics of internal and external sources of comfort and reward. But I don’t see how challenging these many persistent – and pervasive – forms of discrimination could hurt.

First: Work and wages

Then: Health and life

Now: Discrimination and repercussions

Underserved Black women underserved by breast cancer advice

Update February 10, 2010: Disparities in breast cancer rates did not close over the 12-year period ending in 2004, according to new research.

Update April 7, 2010: Black women have poorer outcomes than White women with the same stage breast cancers.

Lots of concern that the new breast cancer screening advice will hurt Black women. The advice to stop routine mammogram screening before age 50 – to avoid the negative effects of false positive findings – means Black women might not get screened during years they are more likely to get breast cancer than White women. Black women die from breast cancer in the ages 35-44 at twice the rate of White women. (The American Cancer Society disagrees with the new advice.)

Fox Chase mammography director Kathryn Evers:

Although breast cancer is more common at older ages, women who develop breast cancer below the age of 50 years are more likely to have more aggressive disease and a higher mortality rate. This is particularly true for African American women who have the highest mortality rates from breast cancer in the 40-49 year age range.

Overall, Black women have 35% higher breast cancer mortality than White women.

Some of the criticism is like the debate over pedophilia – we should have more punishment, regardless of what the current policy is – so any advice against more screening is bad. Vlogger Rene Syler is quoted as saying, for example, “So I’m a little upset that a government panel, made of very smart people, would take a disease like this and boil it down to statistics.”

And Eleanor Hinton Hoytt of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, said:

I strongly disagree with the notion that preventing the psychological harms and inconvenience caused by false-positive screening results, as implied in the recommendations, outweigh the importance of saving one woman’s life. We should not be in the business of rationing care.

Rationing health care is not the question (that’s a given). And advice to the public about disease screening has to be based on statistics. As the NY Times said,

The task force acknowledges that mammography saves lives among women in their 40s. But it estimates that more than 1,900 women have to be screened for a decade to save a single life. Among women in their 50s, when breast cancer is more common, only about 1,300 women have to be screened; among women in their 60s, only 377.

The helpful advice that the decision is an individual one, e.g., “The decision about whether to be screened is properly left to each woman — to determine with the help of her doctor what risks and benefits she is most comfortable accepting,” doesn’t mean not to use statistics in the decision, but that the many variables affecting the risks for individuals are too complex to boil down to a generic recommendation. Unfortunately, the individual consultation approach relies on patients and doctors to be well informed about all the variables involved – if they are known – so the result is better educated and informed people, and those with better doctors, are more likely to make the right decisions, exacerbating existing inequality in the healthcare system. Poor and minority women, and those without a “usual” source of medical care, are less likely to get mammograms.

The reasonable concern is that Black women’s experience was not adequately considered in the new recommendations, which could lead to denial of insurance reimbursement, for example.

Hoytt is more on the mark when she says:

Historically, researchers have not studied Black women. Black women have not been at the forefront of the breast cancer movement, and our unique health experiences and outcomes have not been factored into policy and advocacy decisions. These recommendations completely ignore the impact of well-known breast cancer disparities affecting us.

The risk of overdiagnosis – that is, finding and treating cancers that aren’t as dangerous as the treatments themselves – is real but very difficult to quantify. But it seems less likely to be a problem for Black women given the profile of breast cancers and healthcare they experience.

The current flap probably will raise doubt and distrust, which are serious barriers to receiving healthcare in general. It’s one problem with a vastly unequal healthcare system: some people with health insurance have a more-is-better attitude, and are at risk of overdiagnosis and over-“care” — while others are marginalized and underserved, and tend to mistrust doctors (partly because they don’t “have” a doctor).

Some of the backlash against the new advice comes from those with major investments in programs to increase screening. Still, for Black women, I have to believe the greater issue remains increasing access to and use of cancer screening, so the emphasis should remain on promoting screening. Note that minorities in general suffer greater survival disparities for those cancers that can be treated if screened and diagnosed early (like breast and prostate cancer). A study from last summer concluded:

We should continue to support those interventions that increase mammography use among the medically underserved by addressing the barriers such as cost, language and acculturation limitations, deficits in knowledge and cultural beliefs, literacy and health system barriers such as insurance and having a source regular of medical care. Addressing disparities in the diagnostic and cancer treatment process should also be a priority in order to affect significant change in health outcomes among the underserved.

What ails Black women 2: Health and life

The employment and wage disparities now widening between Black and White women appear alongside substantial – and possibly increasing – health disparities. As the recent concern over breast cancer advice shows, Black and White women often inhabit different worlds in our healthcare system.

Consider the infant mortality rate, a good measure of women’s health and healthcare. The Black infant mortality rate (13.63) is 2.4-times the White rate overall of 5.76 (a shade worse than 10 years ago). Teen motherhood doesn’t explain this, as the race gap is actually smallest for mothers under age 20 – if there were more Black teen mothers, the overall gap would be smaller.

Source: National Vital Statistics Report (2005 data).

Even controlling for income, education, obesity, smoking, and some diseases, Black infant mortality is significantly higher. This presumably indicates worse healthcare, although some suspect the “physiologic effects of experiencing lifelong racism.”

The most striking of the recent reports was a scary analysis released earlier this year showing that Black women have been getting shorter: absolutely and relative to White women, and the same is not true of Black men.

Height within a group varies according to genetics, but height differences between groups indicate health and nutrition inequalities during childhood. Black women born in 1965 reached an average height of 5’4-1/2” (Michelle Obama is about 5’11”). Each cohort since then has been shorter, and the average for those born in 1980 is less than 5’4”. Black men and White men and women all grew taller during this period. Black men and White men are now separated by less than a quarter inch, but White women have opened up a gap of three-quarters of an inch.

The author of the analysis, John Komlos, believes obesity is the main factor driving the disparity, compounded by inequities in health care access and quality. He concludes:

The decline in [Black women’s] height is most likely related to the obesity epidemic caused by inadequate dietary balance. Black women in the age range 20-39 weigh some 9.5 kg (21.0 lb) more than their white counterparts. It appears that black females are experiencing a double jeopardy in the sense that both their increasing weight and the diminution of their physical stature are both substantial and are both probably associated with negative health consequences.

In some urban areas, the disparities between Black and White women are especially stark. That is the case in Washington, D.C., which pairs a disproportionately poor Black population with an above-average-income White population. There, Black women are more than 3-times more likely to be overweight or obese than Latina or Asian women, 5-times more likely than White women.

Obesity doesn’t explain everything, of course, and neither does other health behavior such as smoking. At just 17.3%, Black women have lower smoking rates than White women (21.5%).

Racism and discrimination are the hard-to-measure elephants in the room on both employment and health matters. That’s coming in the next entry.

Before: Work and wages

Today: Health and life

Next: Discrimination and repercussions

What ails Black women 1: Work and wages

In both the current situation (the recession) and in the medium run (the last few decades), Black women are losing ground – relative to Whites, and in some cases absolutely. What is going on?

Life not at the top


Back during the presidential campaign, I suggested that Barack Obama’s success didn’t mean the average Black person in America was doing better than before: “What happens at the tails of the distribution – out at the extremes, where the fastest people run, and the most successful minorities thrive – is not a good measure of what’s happening at the middle of the distribution, where the average is found.” Today there is a tendency to use Michelle Obama as a symbol for Black women’s progress. Even The Government does this, as in, “Michelle Obama Presents Modern Image for Black Women,” which celebrates how her “combination of her professional and domestic success challenges stereotypical media images of black women in America.”

But below the top of the distribution, things are not going as well.

Work and wages

We’ve known for months that men are losing a lot more jobs than women in this recession. And, of course, it has cost Blacks more than Whites. But as I reported the other day, the Black-White gap in job losses is greater among women. Specifically, Black women have lost 5.2% of their jobs in the year ending October 2009, while White women lost 2.5%. That’s a ratio of 2.1:1. Among men, the Black-White loss ratio was “only” 1.5:1. For the first time in a long time, White women are more likely to have jobs than Black women. (All this is based on non-institutionalized civilians ages 20+.)

pct employedSource: My chart from BLS data.

This divergence in the last year follows a longer trend of increasing wage inequality between Black and White women, thoroughly investigated in, “Employment Gains and Wage Declines: The Erosion of Black Women’s Relative Wages Since 1980,” by Becky Pettit and Stephanie Ewert in the latest issue of Demography. In the late 1970s, White women’s wages were less than 5% more than Black women’s, and they are now more than 10% higher – closer to 15% higher for young workers.


Why are Black women falling further behind? After an in-depth statistical analysis, they conclude:

Despite decades of educational expansion, employed black women continue to lag behind employed whites in the educational qualifications that are increasingly relevant in the contemporary workplace. Premarket educational inequalities are magnified by a labor market that increasingly rewards education. Widening racial gaps in marriage—combined with growing returns to marriage—also disadvantage African American women. These factors, combined with a retreat from affirmative action programs and weak enforcement of employment discrimination law, may have uniquely disadvantaged the economic fortunes of black women.

Success at the top may bring benefits to those who recognize or celebrate it. But it shouldn’t be confused with success for everyone else.

A series

Today: Work and wages

Next: Health and life

Then: Discrimination and repercussions