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Even With Same Education, Kentuckians See Pay Gaps By Race

Saving for education
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Saving for education

A recent study by the Council on Postsecondary Education found that Black and Asian people in Kentucky have persistent pay gaps, even with the same level of education as white Kentuckians.

Researchers studied education levels from a high school diploma to a terminal degree  and found white Kentuckians have higher lifetime earnings than almost all other groups in the Commonwealth. Asian Kentuckians earn less than similarly educated white peers. And Black and Hispanic Kentuckians are underrepresented among those holding terminal degrees in their fields. 

David Mahan, associate vice president of the CPE’s Data and Advanced Analytics department, said they want to be very clear in their research conclusions: that the findings are about occupation selection.

“In other words, more females and more of Kentucky’s residents of color are working lower-paying jobs than their white counterparts,” Mahan said. “The big takeaway here is the recruitment of additional students from minority backgrounds into areas like STEM and being business leaders.”

The research was part of a series based on data from the 2016-18 American Community Survey, Census data and the most recent data that includes lifetime earnings, population and housing information. Other recent CPE reports found a  correlation between higher education and greater financial income over a career, and that  women in Kentucky earn less than men over a lifetime even with more advanced degrees.

In almost every category in the data, white Kentuckians had the highest earnings. Hispanics with high school diploma, some college, associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees had the second-highest earnings. At the terminal degree level, Asian Kentuckians had the second-highest. 

These gaps devalue higher education among minority students, the study said. Researchers recommended steps to increase enrollment and retention efforts for minority students and working with employers to address the issue.

“The gaps are very discouraging but maybe not very surprising, but overall we see the positive... college degrees provide financial benefits for all racial and ethnic groups and often help narrow the income disparities with white workers,” said Grace Dai, a senior associate in the CPE’s Data and Advanced Analytics department.

The study includes people from all occupations and areas of the workforces regardless of time and position.

“What this study is really saying is that you’re getting more, say especially white males, working in engineering at the baccalaureate level or finishing your MBA in business at the Master’s level, while their female or minority counterparts may be more likely to work in education or on the frontlines of healthcare,” Mahan said. 

Investigative Reporter Lily Burris is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.

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