The Minimum Wage, Unions and the Economic Health of Black America

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Too many of the discussions of black economic conditions today avoid economic factors. We can take a quick look at a few that are almost absent from popular discussions. Since the 1970s, there have been a variety of factors that put downward pressure on black incomes. One has been the fact that the real value of the minimum wage has been trending downward. In 1965, the minimum wage was $6.57 in 2005 dollars. In 2005, it was $5.15. Blacks are more likely to be earning the minimum wage so this trend affects blacks disproportionately.

Source: Economic Policy Institute

Blacks in unions earn a wage that is on average 12.1 percent higher than non-unionized blacks. In recent years, that means that the non-union median black wage was $12.74 an hour, but the median for unionized blacks was $14.28 an hour. The unfortunate trend is that the share of blacks in unions have declined significantly.

Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research

Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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