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Skin Color Impacts Pay for Multnomah County Residents

News Release
August 28, 2001

Study documents that race makes difference in earnings of workers living in Multnomah County

Analysis of the annual earnings of people who live in Multnomah County shows that the size of their paychecks depends in part on their race, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Related materials:

What Color is Your Paycheck?, August 28, 2001

See the Census Bureau's American Community Survey

“Even when we adjusted for education, work experience and English language proficiency, whites earned more than minorities,” said Michael Leachman, a sociologist and policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

“White workers who are well educated, have work experience, and are proficient in English earn one-third more than minority workers with similar characteristics,” said Leachman. “That's a substantial difference.”

“On average, those white workers are earning over $12,000 more than similar minority workers each year, and that gives them a tremendous advantage for building wealth and for financing their children's education,” said Leachman. “The disparity today fuels future inequality and makes it more difficult to even things out.”

Leachman noted that the study showed that in general minority workers earn less than white workers, and that some of the difference was probably due to differences in education, work experience and language proficiency.

“Those factors matter, but they do not tell the whole story,” said Leachman. “When we matched up whites and minorities with similar education, work experience, and English proficiency, we still found substantial disparity,” he added.

The study also found that whites earn more than minorities in the same types of jobs.

“The pay gap between whites and minorities is not just due to the fact that minorities are concentrated in certain industries and occupations,” said Leachman. “Even in those similar jobs, whites earn more than minorities,” he added.

The Center's report noted that there is no silver bullet to address the issue, but did offer a number of suggestions.

“The educational achievement gap needs to be closed, but better education, without other changes, will not close the gap. Improving education is necessary but not sufficient,” said Leachman.

“Oregonians need to continue to raise the pay of low wage workers by tying minimum wage increases to inflation, unionizing the minority workforce, and providing amnesty for immigrants who today function as a second tier labor market, pushing down wages for other low-wage workers,” he added.

“The business community needs to step up its efforts at training employers on the value of diverse workforces and the need to achieve parity in the workplace,” said Leachman. “And the workforce training community needs to do its part to reverse the disparity through targeted programs.”

The study looked only at Multnomah County residents because that county is the only Oregon area that was part of the American Community Survey (ACS) in the late 1990s. The ACS is a new survey being piloted by the US Census Bureau. Data from the 2000 Decennial Census is not available yet. Neither the Census Bureau's monthly Current Population Survey nor the biennial Oregon Population Survey has adequate data to determine disparity between whites and minorities on the local level.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton-based public policy research institute that addresses tax, budget, economic, and policy policies important to low and moderate income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.

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