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Employment Gains and Wage Declines: The Erosion of Black Women's Relative Wages Since 1980

From: Demography
Volume 46, Number 3, August 2009
pp. 469-492 | 10.1353/dem.0.0061



Public policy initiatives in the 1950s and 1960s, including Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity law, helped mitigate explicit discrimination in pay, and the expansion of higher education and training programs have advanced the employment fortunes of many American women. By the early 1980s, some scholars proclaimed near equity in pay between black and white women, particularly among young and highly skilled workers. More recent policy initiatives and labor market conditions have been arguably less progressive for black women's employment and earnings: through the 1980s, 1990s, and the first half of the 2000s, the wage gap between black and white women widened considerably. Using data from the Current Population Survey Merged Outgoing Rotation Group (CPS-MORG), this article documents the racial wage gap among women in the United States from 1979 to 2005. We investigate how demographic and labor market conditions influence employment and wage inequality among black and white women over the period. Although shifts in labor supply influence the magnitude of the black-white wage gap among women, structural disadvantages faced by black women help explain the growth in the racial wage gap.

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