The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr., described the "Other America" in one of his final speeches. He talked about the "fatigue of despair" for African-Americans who continue to be left out despite making significant economic and educational progress. Fifty years later, according to the Associated Press, a huge number of African-Americans find themselves underemployed and largely locked out of the highest-paying fields.
The AP analyzed data from the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out how well African-Americans are represented in the 11 job categories with the highest median annual salaries. The top five highest-paying fields pay an average of $65,000 to $100,000 nationwide. Some of the top fields are management, math/computers, architecture/engineering, law, healthcare, business and the sciences.
The AP found that white workers are still far more likely than African-Americans to hold one of those top-paying jobs.
Nationally, there are about 5.5 white workers for every African-American. If jobs were distributed without regard to race, we would expect that ratio to remain constant across job fields. Instead, the nationwide ratio is about 10 to 1 in management, 12 to 1 in law, 8 to 1 in math and computer-related fields and 7 to 1 in education.
In some areas, the ratios are stark. In Boston, the ratio between white and African-American workers overall is about 9.5 to 1. The ratio between whites and African-Americans in computer- and math-related professions is 27 to 1. In Seattle, the ratio in those fields is 28 to 1. New York City has an overall ratio of only 3 to 1, but the ratio is 6 to 1 in the business and finance world. In Hollywood, there are about 9 white workers for every African-American.
Disturbingly, the share of African-Americans graduating in the fields of science, engineering, technology and math peaked in 2010 at 9.9 percent. It has been in decline since then despite the increasing demand for credentials in those fields.
One bright spot in the nation is King's home town of Atlanta. In many fields, whites and African-Americans are represented almost proportionally. Atlanta, unfortunately, is the exception.
One policy expert interviewed by the AP proposed a number of examples of the structural racism that may underpin the problem:
- Unequal schools, especially in poor neighborhoods
- Discrimination in hiring
- White-dominated office cultures
- Boards and hiring managers who value familiarity over diversity
- Companies that complain about scarce talent but don't offer minorities training
- Investors who are more likely to support white startups
Strong role models in top fields could help drive change, the policy expert says. 50 years after King's assassination, we deserve to see more of them.