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News from EPI Black and Latinx workers are underrepresented in professional occupations

Black and Latinx workers are severely underrepresented in professional occupations, which pay more, on average, than other occupations, according to a new joint fact sheet from EPI and the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO.

Black and Latinx workers make up 12.8% and 17.4% of the total workforce, respectively, but only 10.0% and 9.8% of the professional workforce. Meanwhile, white and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers are overrepresented in professional occupations.

On average, professionals are paid 44% more than the median wage earned by workers in all occupations. However, Black and Latinx professionals still earn less than white professionals in similar occupations.

As the fact sheet explains, occupational segregation and discrimination are significant factors in explaining racial wage gaps, and these pay gaps are signs of the larger structural inequities that Black and Latinx professionals face in the workplace that impact related outcomes such as promotions, recruitment, and retention.

“While we’ve seen some change in the representation rates of Black and Latinx professionals over the last two decades, the rate of change is so slow that it would take 38 years to overcome the current representational gap for Black professionals and 33 years for Latinx professionals,” says Valerie Wilson, co-author of the fact sheet and Director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE). “Racial disparities in the economy are likely to continue growing if current employment patterns remain unchecked. Major policy reforms are needed to modernize and strengthen our labor laws and eliminate the racial wage gap and wealth inequity.”

Black and Latinx professionals are also unequally distributed across professional occupation groups. For example, Black and Latinx workers have higher rates of representation in community and social service occupations, but are severely underrepresented in legal occupations, architecture and engineering, and physical and social sciences. Black workers are also represented at much higher rates in the public sector than in the private sector.

On the other hand, AAPI workers are overrepresented in STEM and health care occupations, but underrepresented in professional occupations that employ larger shares of Black and Latinx workers.

The fact sheet advocates for passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to increase professionals’ ability to organize unions, strengthening anti-discrimination laws in the private sector, dismantling structures that perpetuate pay gaps by reinstating the 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) pay data collection rule, removing barriers to job access for Black and Latinx professionals in STEM by reforming the H-1B visa program, and increasing federal arts funding and leveraging tax incentives to create talent pipelines and encourage diverse hiring in the arts, entertainment, and media industries.

The data confirm that racial inequities pervade the professional workforce and provide a deeper look into where the greatest disparities exist for professionals of color,” said Jennifer Dorning, President of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. “It’s clear that a lot of changes are needed to make these occupations more accessible to Black and Latinx professionals. By joining together in union, professionals can use their collective power to create more diverse, representative, and equitable workplaces and industries.”