SWPA 2016 Highlight: Non-College Educated Men in PA Falling Farther Behind

John Neurohr |

The post below is one of a series of posts about specific trends examined in the recently-released annual edition of The State of Working Pennsylvania, written by Keystone Research Center Executive Director and economist Stephen Herzenberg and Research Director and economist Mark Price.

Many parts of Pennsylvania have been known for decades as blue-collar, working class communities. In these communities, manufacturing jobs sprouted and provided family-sustaining jobs from one generation to another, usually for men. As the economy has shifted, these communities and these men, many with only a high-school degree, have suffered. While this is familiar to most Pennsylvanians, the economic facts that tell the story never fail to stun. For example, let’s take a look at wages over time for working-age men (aged 18 to 64) in Pennsylvania with less than a bachelor’s degree. As you do keep in mind that this is a BIG group–seven out of every 10 working-age men in Pennsylvania.

After adjusting for inflation, the median wage for white men with less than a bachelor’s degree in 2013-15 remained $2.18 per hour below its level in 1980 (1979-81). That means a full-time, full-year worker receives $4,500 less in wages annually today than 35 years ago!

That wage plunge explains why the national and Pennsylvania conversations in an election year focus a lot on the trials and tribulations of the white men. It also explains why some voters respond to divisve appeals that imply white men’s economic losses result from gains made by other race or gender groups. SWPA 2016 examines wage trends for every race, enthicity, gender, and education combination. Therefore, as well as documenting downward mobility of working-class white men, the report allows us to fact check how “other groups” are doing.

We’ll focus in this blog on black men without a bachelor’s degree. It turns out they’ve been hammered even more than their white counterparts. Black men without bachelor’s degrees in Pennsylvania now earn $3.90 per hour less than in 1979-81, which is $8,100 less per year for a full-time, full-year worker. (There weren’t evough Hispanic men in the job market to estimate wages back to 1980 but in the most recent period, 2013-15, Hispanic men with less than a bachelor’s degree earned 78 cents for every dollar a similarly educated white man earned.)

Facing a lack of opportunity, white and black men without a bachelor’s degree have also dropped out of the labor market a lot. While 14 of every 100 working-age Pennsylvania white men without a bachelor’s degree did not participate in the labor market (work or actively looking for work) in 1979-81, that number has now jumped to 21. For black men, the jump has been from 22 to 34, so that one third of working-age black men don’t participate in the job market (and that’s without taking into consideration the incarcerated population).

The broader message of SWPA 2016 is that different groups of working Pennsylvanians shouldn’t get angry with each other because no group is doing very well (as we’ll show you for women and for more educated groups in subsequent blog posts). In fact, the only group doing really well is the top 1 percent. While the productivity of Pennsylvania workers has improved by 71 percent since 1979, wages have barely budged. The top 1 percent has received more than half of the total increase in income over this period. If we want wages and family incomes to rise steadily again, we need to shift away from policies that funnel so much of the benefits of economic growth to a tiny slice at the top.

Learn more by reading the full report, The State of Working Pennsylvania.