The numbers are alarming to some and refreshing to others. A recent study found that Black and Asian women with bachelor’s degrees earn more than a similarly educated white woman. Meanwhile, Black, Asian and Hispanic males continue to lag pitifully behind their white, male counterparts.
According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, a white woman with a bachelor’s degree typically earned nearly $37,000 in 2003, compared with nearly $43,700 for a college-educated Asian woman and $41,000 for a college-educated Black woman. Hispanic women bottomed out– taking home the lowest income at $37,600.
Conversely, a white male with a college diploma earns far more than any similarly educated man or woman – in excess of $66,000 a year, according to the Census Bureau. Among men with bachelor’s degrees, Asians earned more than $52,000 a year, Hispanics earned $49,000 and Blacks earned more than $45,000.
But what to make of it all? Is it racism? Affirmative action? Reverse discrimination at its vilest? Experts say none of the above ¬-at least in the women’s case.
Although the bureau did not say why the differences exist, economists and sociologists suggest possible factors: the tendency of minority women, especially blacks, to hold more than one job or work more than 40 hours a week, and the tendency of black professional women who take time off to have a child to return to work sooner than others.
"Employers in some fields may give extra financial incentives to young black women," said Roderick Harrison, a researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that studies minority issues. "It could be the fields that educated black women are choosing," she said.
For men, the disparities may have a more familiar source. Workplace discrimination, demographics and the continuing difficulties of minorities to get into higher-paying management positions could help explain the gaps among men, experts say.
LaNetia Gaines, a Kinesiology student at Dillard University in New Orleans says now is not the time for Black women to boast.
"I know that America must think that Black and Asian are high-fiving each other everywhere and saying ‘take that’ to white women but that’s not the case," said Gaines.
"The data just confirms that games are still being played with people’s money and many are still not being paid what they deserve even though they have the degree to show their worth."
For Arlene Lim a Filipino broadcast journalism student at California State Los Angeles, news of the Asian woman’s current status in the workforce came as a refreshing surprise.
"I don’t care so much that we [Asian] earn more than any other group, I’m just happy to see that we are valued as a competitive factor in the workforce, and employers are seeing our work as valuable and indispensable," said Lim.
But is Lim apprehensive about a backlash against Blacks and Asians in the future?
"The only backlash I can foresee is white women rightfully demanding more pay for their labor, which is not necessarily a direct backlash against me, it’s more like ‘more power to them.’"
Kaycee Morris, a white student at California State Long Beach, is unfettered by the Census data, and doesn’t plan on making any demands for a pay raise because of it.
"When you look at the big picture, we are all better off with college degrees. I think that’s more important," said Morris.
She make a good point. According to more Census Bureau data, regardless of race or gender specifications, a college graduate on average earned more than $51,000 compared with $28,000 for someone with only a high school diploma or equivalent degree.
According to Morris, "Those are the disparities that we need to be addressing."