Racial inequality, wage inequality, African Americans, recession, work experience


This research challenges William Julius Wilson's (1980) postulation that social class has superseded race in predicting economic outcomes among African Americans. Among the evidence Wilson used to support his claim was the strong position of black degree holders, particularly women. Shortly after the publication of The Declining Significance of Race, however, the United States experienced a severe recession and slow recovery, contributing to a marked growth in the black-white wage gap among women. Young black women were particularly hard hit. Over the 1980s, their cumulative work experience became increasingly correlated with educational attainment, leading to an absolute loss in experience among less educated black women. Although black degree holders were able to keep pace in cumulative work experience, their wage trajectories flattened over their twenties, relative to both a previous cohort and young white degree holders. The declining relative work experience and wage erosion of young black women during the 1980s does not bode wellfor young black women weathering the 2007-2009 recession. Initial indicatorsf ind an increase in the black-white wage gap and disproportionateg rowth in the length of unemployment spells among young black women, particularly degree holders. The losses sustained by young black degree holders during two severe recessions and their inability to regain ground during subsequent recoveries challenge Wilson's thesis that educational attainment and social class can insulate African Americans from racial inequality.

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