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Desmond King

Research Findings

Racial Pay Parity: How African Americans made government jobs good

October 1, 2020

“Get yourself a good government job!” This familiar refrain originates in the Black community, for whom public employment offers a rare respite from the inequities of the private sector labor market. Government jobs are in fact good for many groups. The pay, status, and rewards of African-American, female, and disabled public employees are closer to that of their white, male, and non-disabled colleagues, even when accounting for public-private differences in occupation and education.  Recent attacks on public sector unions, moreover, are in part the result of prejudice against these groups.

Yet the public sector did not always protect African Americans and others. When Swedish economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal visited the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, he could still describe the “tenuous presence of Blacks in public employment.” This precariousness was a legacy of the Woodrow Wilson presidency which introduced segregation and discrimination into civil service hiring practices.

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