Research Brief: Black Workers and the Public Sector

Source: Steven Pitts, UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, Research Brief, April 5, 2011

Since January 2009, state and local governments have laid off 429,000 public workers. As governments contemplate additional layoffs, it is important to note that few commentators have examined the racial implications of this reduction in government employment. This is an important question to address because often policy prescriptions that are race-neutral on the surface can have decidedly racial impacts. This research brief explores the issue by analyzing the nature of Black employment in the public sector.

The results of this study are striking:
• The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
• During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all Black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-Black workers. Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
• The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for Black Americans. For both men and women, the median wage earned by Black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
• Prior to the recession, the wage differential between Black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy
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