Work and Wages among Older People of Color

by August 19, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 16, 2011 — The number of people of color in the workforce — particularly Hispanics and Asian Americans — will soar in the next two decades as the older population expands, grows more diverse, and works longer. But, African Americans and Hispanics age 50 and older face substantial workplace challenges, including relatively low earnings, high unemployment, and limited access to self-employment. Older Asians fare better, but still lag behind their non-Hispanic white counterparts on many indicators.

A new data brief, by Richard Johnson and Janice Park of the Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy, provides the data and details, such as

  • Among men age 50 to 61 employed full time, 2009 median earnings totaled $56,100 for non-Hispanic whites, compared with $40,800 for African Americans, $35,700 for Hispanics, and $50,000 for Asians. Median inflation-adjusted earnings fell between 1999 and 2009 for men 50–61 in all groups.
  • For women 50–61, Hispanics exhibited the highest 2010 unemployment rate (10.7 percent), followed by African Americans (8.7 percent), Asians (6.6 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (5.6 percent).
  • Self-employment, which often provides more flexible work arrangements than standard wage and salary jobs, was much more common in 2010 at older ages than at younger ages. However, workers of color were less likely to work for themselves than non-Hispanic whites, possibly because of difficulty gaining access to the financial capital needed to start a business.

“Employment and Earnings among 50+ People of Color,” by Richard Johnson and Janice Park, is available at

For more research and resources about retirement security and the aging of American society, go to

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The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens’ understanding of the issues and trade-offs that policymakers face.

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