Racial Disparities Among Working Families Increasing, Report Finds

Racial Disparities Among Working Families Increasing, Report Finds

Working families headed by racial/ethnic minorities are twice as likely to be poor or low-income as those headed by whites — a gap that has widened since the onset of the Great Recession, a report from the Working Poor Families Project finds.

Based on an analysis of Census Bureau data, the report, Low-Income Working Families: The Racial/Ethnic Divide (17 pages, PDF), found that in 2013, 47.5 percent of working families headed by minorities were low-income — defined as having a household income below 200 percent of the official poverty level — compared with 22.6 percent among those headed by non-Hispanic whites. Moreover, while a third of all working families were low-income in 2013, those headed by people of color — 40 percent of all working families — accounted for 58 percent of low-income working families. The study also found that among communities of color, working families headed by Latinos (55 percent), African Americans (49 percent), and American Indians and Alaska Natives (48 percent) were twice as likely to be low-income as those headed by Asians and Pacific Islanders (24 percent). Although working families of color fared better in Alaska, Hawaii, the mid-Atlantic region, and parts of the Northeast than those in the Upper Midwest and the South, in every state a higher percentage were low-income compared with white families.

Factors contributing to high percentages of low-income working families among communities of color included educational attainment, family structure, and the economy. Funded by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Kresge, and Joyce foundations, the report also found that nearly half of all low-income working families, including 73 percent of those headed by African Americans, are headed by single parents, and that more than half of low-income working families headed by Latinos included at least one parent without a high school diploma — although even among full-time workers with the same level of education, African Americans and Latinos earned less than their Asian and white counterparts. 

To remedy the disparities, which will likely grow as the number of minority workers in the labor force continues to increase, the report calls on state policy leaders to invest in education, training, child care, and other supports; improve access to health care; and provide a higher minimum wage, state Earned Income Tax Credits, guaranteed paid sick leave, and other work benefits.

"This is a moral as well as economic issue that's defining the fairness of our society," Brandon Roberts, a co-author of the report, told the Washington Post. "The inequality between hard-working families in America is very real and must be addressed."

Michael A. Fletcher. "Black and Latino Working Families Are Twice as Likely as Others to Be Low-Income." Washington Post 03/16/2015. "Low-Income Working Families: The Racial/Ethnic Divide." Working Poor Families Project Report 03/13/2015.