Explaining the Racial Earnings Gap for College Graduates

New Census Bureau data shows that blacks with a college degree have median earnings that are 86 percent of the median earnings of all whites with a college degree.

Undoubtedly, continuing employment discrimination plays a role in lower black earnings. But other factors are also involved.

First, women outnumber men among African-American college graduates, particularly among those in the lower age brackets. Since women generally tend to earn lower wages than men, the disproportionate share of women among African-American college graduates tends to lower the overall earnings figure for blacks and therefore widens the racial gap.

Also, of all blacks in the United States who have obtained a bachelor’s degree, 52.8 percent now reside in southern states. Only 31.7 percent of all whites who have a bachelor’s degree reside in the South. Because wages in the South tend to be lower than in other regions, the large percentage of African Americans with college degrees who live in the South tend to drag down the national median earnings figure. This is not the case for whites.

It follows then that the geographical location of large numbers of African-American college graduates in the South is a significant factor in the overall nationwide earnings gap for blacks and whites with a college degree.