America’s devastating racial wealth gap is the clearest possible evidence of our nation’s racist history. If we ever want to deal with it, we have another problem to deal with first: the wages of black people are inexcusably low. And it’s getting worse.

Wealth is how much you have. Wages are how much you earn. It’s hard to close the gap in wealth when the group with far less wealth is also earning far less than the group with more wealth. This is one of the most fundamental problems facing America today, even though it’s rarely spoken about in these terms. White people can argue over the existence of racism all they want, but numbers are numbers.

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A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the wage gap between black and white people in America is actually worse now than it was in 1979, when our current age of economic inequality took flight. Black women, as you might expect, have it worst of all. Among the report’s findings:

  • “The black-white wage gap has widened more among women but it is still larger among men. Black men’s average hourly wages were 22.2 percent lower than those of white men in 1979 and declined to 31.0 percent lower by 2015. With an average hourly wage gap of 6.0 percent, black women were near parity with white women in 1979, but by 2015 this gap had grown to 19.0 percent.”
  • “In 1979, black women’s wages were 42.3 percent lower than those of white men and 25.4 percent lower than those of black men. By 2015, these differences had narrowed, but remain significant—34.2 percent and 12.2 percent lower than white and black men, respectively.”
  • The longer black men are in the work force—that is, the more years of working experience they have—the larger the wage gap grows between them and white men. The same is true for the wages of black women versus white women.
  • Before someone says that “education” is the simple solution: “just completing a bachelor’s degree or more will not reduce the black-white wage gap. Indeed the gaps have expanded most for college graduates.” New black male college grads now begin their work lives earning 18% less than their white counterparts.

We will never have an equal country as long as one demographic group is so profoundly worse off economically. We need to push wealth down the economic chain into every sector of our society. If the free market can’t do it, then the government needs to.

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[The full report]