Racial Wage Gap larger in Great Lakes Region and largest in Michigan

Jun 26, 2020

In much of the United States, the earnings of African American workers have fallen relative to the earnings of white workers since the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to a new study from two Michigan State University economists.


The relative losses have been larger in the Great Lakes region than in any other region in the U.S., and larger in Michigan than in any other state, economists Charles Ballard and John Goddeeris found.

They shared results of their work in the latest State of the State Podcast, hosted by MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in the College of Social Science.

The research began a year ago before the coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd focused heightened public attention on racial disparities in the United States, Goddeeris said.  The study focused on annual wages in the full-time, year-round workforce and spanned four decades. Find the research paper here.

“Since around 1980, Black workers, both men and women, have lost a lot of ground relative to whites outside of the south,” Goddeeris said during the podcast.  “It is striking that African Americans have lost the most ground in Michigan.”

The most important factors explaining these trends are racial differences in education, they concluded, along with occupational segregation.

They called for continued enforcement of anti-discrimination laws as “an important part of any effort to improve the earnings of black workers,” in a presentation made as part of an IPPSR training program.

In addition, they recommended:

·       Greater public awareness of the racial wage gap.

·       Any steps to help reduce overall inequality, including raising the minimum wage, will help erase the racial wage gap.

·       Improvements in the quality and quantity of education to all will lift the fortunes of all American children, but is likely to help African Americans disproportionately.

·       Longer K-12 school year, better financing for education, and increased attention to graduation rates from elementary school through college.

IPPSR Director Matt Grossmann and Associate IPPSR Director Arnold Weinfeld hosted this broadcast over Zoom while MSU employees conduct teaching and research remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

IPPSR is best known for its policy education, leadership training, and survey research. It is home of the Public Policy Forum Series, the Michigan Political Leadership Program, Office for Survey Research and State of the State Survey and a number of databases valuable to researchers, academic faculty and media.