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November 1990, Vol. 113, No. 11
Black college graduates in the labor market, 1979 and 1989
Joseph R. Meisenheimer II
"There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence
and development of all."
-Booker T. Washington, from a speech made in Atlanta on September 18, 1895
Black educator Booker T. Washington espoused the philosophy that education is the path to economic and social equality for blacks. Indeed, education, particularly college education, has long been regarded as the path to expanded job opportunities, higher earnings, and enhanced social standing for all people.
A substantial education gap between whites and blacks had narrowed over time, but is still persists. In 1979, 9 percent of blacks ages 25 to 64 had completed 4 or more years of college; by comparison, 19 percent of whites had done so. The 1980's saw considerable progress for both groups, but no narrowing of the gap; in 1989, 13 percent of blacks and 24 percent of whites had completed 4 or more years of college.1
Many of the economic disparities between blacks and whites have been attributed, in large part, to the relatively lower educational levels (human capital) of blacks.2 And much of the improvement in the economic status of blacks over time has been attributed to their increasing educational levels.3 Differences in education, however, do not completely explain the labor market disparities between blacks and whites. For example, among college-educated men, black graduates have substantially higher unemployment rates and lower median earnings than their white counterparts.
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1 Unless stated otherwise, all data in this article refer to persons 25 to 64 years old. This age group has been selected because it has the strongest attachment to the labor force. Many people under age 25 have not yet completed their formal education, and relatively few people over the age of 64 participate in the labor force.
2 For a discussion of how human capital differences between blacks and whites relate to economic differences, see James P. Smith, "Race and Human Capital," American Economic Review, September 1984, pp. 685-98. For a general overview of human capital theory, see Gary S. Becker, Human Capital (New York, Columbia University Press, 1964 and 1975), or Jacob Mincer, Schooling, Experience and Earnings (New York, Columbia University Press, 1974).
3 See, for example, James P. Smith and Finis R. Welch, "Black Economic Progress After Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, June 1989, pp. 519-64.
Relative earnings of black men to white men by region, industry.Apr. 1995.
Job displacement, 1979-86: how blacks fared relative to whites.July 1991.
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