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Education gaps closing; income disparity remains

©Associated Press
March 21, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Educational gaps between men and women and whites and blacks have narrowed in recent years, but this much has not changed: A highly educated white man still makes much more than anyone else.

On average, a white man with a college diploma earned about $65,000 in 2001. Similarly educated white women made about 40 percent less, while black and Hispanic men earned 30 percent less, according to Census Bureau estimates being released today.

Almost half of residents of Asian descent 25 and older have graduated from college, nearly twice the rate of whites. Still, those of Asian descent earned about 8 percent less than whites.

"There's a wedge between minority education gains and the payoff, and that's discrimination and the kinds of job opportunities available," said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-supported think tank.

There were similar disparities between white men and women on other educational levels. Income gaps have narrowed slightly since 1991 at the high school level and grown a bit at the college level.

Differences in income were slightly lower on other educational levels between white men and minorities. For instance, black men who are high school graduates earned about 25 percent less than comparably educated whites, and black men who held master's degrees earned 20 percent less than their white counterparts.

Looking back a decade, income gaps have edged up between whites and minorities. Historical data was not available for those of Asian descent.

"It doesn't do as much for closing gaps as it does to improving the floors that people are moving from," said demographer Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which examines issues of importance to minorities. "It's like catching up with a speeding train."

The figures come from the Census Bureau's annual look at educational achievement in America, culled from a survey in March 2002. The bureau found record high educational levels for nearly every group and the nation overall.

Of U.S. residents 25 and older, 84 percent are high school graduates, the Census Bureau found. By gender, it was 83.8 percent for men and 84.4 percent for women.

Nearly 27 percent are college graduates -- almost 29 percent of men and 25 percent of women.

The gap between men and women has been narrowing since the 1970s.

For example, among 25- to 29-year-olds, nearly 32 percent of women have college diplomas, compared with 27 percent of men.

Whites remain more likely to be better educated than blacks and Hispanics. More than 29 percent of whites are college graduates, compared with 17 percent of blacks and about 11 percent of Hispanics, all record highs.

For blacks, disparities in high school graduation have narrowed dramatically with whites over the past 30 years. The college education gap has narrowed slightly between 1997 and 2002, but generally has increased since the 1970s.

Experts say that's because whites typically make more money, and that usually leads to more access to college.

Among Hispanics, the high school education gap with whites has remained level since 1970. Despite the record high, the college education gap between whites and Hispanics grew in the 1990s largely because of an increase in the number of less-educated Hispanic immigrants, Bernstein said.

Income disparities across educational levels were far lower among white women and other minorities. In fact, women of Asian descent with college degrees earned more money than similarly educated white women.

The federal government considers Hispanic to be an ethnicity, not a race, and people who are Hispanic can be of any race.

The most thorough historical data available in the report was for whites and blacks, regardless of Hispanic origin.

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