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Home Publications Reports Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?

Has Education Paid Off for Black Workers?

June 2013, Janelle Jones and John Schmitt

Over the past three decades, the “human capital” of the employed black workforce has increased enormously. In 1979, only one-in-ten (10.4 percent) black workers had a four-year college degree or more. By 2011, more than one in four (26.2 percent) had a college education or more. Over the same period, the share of black workers with less than a high school degree fell from almost one-third (31.6 percent) to only about one in 20 (5.3 percent). The black workforce has also grown considerably older. In 1979, the median employed black worker was 33 years old; today, the median is 39. Economists expect that increases in education and work experience will increase workers' productivity and translate into higher compensation. But, the share of black workers in a “good job” – one that pays at least $19 per hour (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars), has employer-provided health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan – has actually declined. This paper looks at this trend and policies that would have a large, positive impact on the quality of jobs for black workers.

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