Wednesday, July 19, 2023
My review of Stepanie Bornstein's Confronting the Racial Pay Gap, 75 Vand. L. Rev. 1401 (2022), has just been posted on the Jotwell (Journal of Things We Like Lots) website. For those who may not know, Jotwell publishes timely reviews of excellent emerging legal scholarship:
Stephanie Bornstein’s illuminating article, Confronting the Racial Pay Gap, performs an almost shockingly useful math exercise for legal theorists. First, Professor Bornstein recounts statistics on the racial disparities between White families and families of color. “Recent estimates show the median net worth of an average White family is nearly ten times that of an average Black family” (in 2016, $171,000 compared to $17,100) “and nearly seven times that of the average Latinx family” (in 2019, $142,180 as compared to $20,765). (P. 1405.) She observes that “despite gains in the perceived social and economic status of Black and Latinx Americans, racial wealth gaps are worse than they were thirty years ago.” (P. 1416.)
Professor Bornstein then highlights the astounding details of the racial pay gap. Using the metric of comparing only workers who work full-time, year-round, in 2019, the average Black worker earned 73.5 cents and the average Latinx worker earned 74.6 cents on the dollar to the average White worker. While there was some improvement prior to 2000, these racial pay gaps are now larger than they were four decades ago. Before commenting upon some of the underlying findings in this global result, I want to pause here to consider what these two conclusions tell us in particular about the economic dynamics at play in White/Black relations in the United States. Here comes the math. White families have ten times the wealth that Black families possess and the gap cannot be closed with wages.
I also comment on facts that may be relevant to workers' compensation:
Occupational segregation—the distribution of workers by race and gender in different industries and occupations—calls into question original wage setting functions. I find it interesting when jobs are considered “good jobs” until women and people of color begin to obtain them. Somehow at that point they become less good. Occupational segregation causes me also to think about the extent to which Black workers have over time been shunted into dangerous work, even before the pandemic. Professor Bornstein’s article usefully makes me more suspicious of such “accidents” and additionally causes me to question the “neutrality” of all wage-based benefits systems.
Michael C. Duff