Paycheck Racism in Tompkins County: Close to 3/4 of Black Workers in Tompkins County Earn Less than a Living Wage

(Ithaca, NY) New research initiated by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, and carried out by Cornell-Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) Buffalo and Ithaca Co-Labs, has uncovered how deep racism in Tompkins County goes, and how important raising our minimum wage to a living wage really is.

Almost three-quarters of all Black workers, over age 18, in the County (74%) are paid less than a living wage, compared to a little over a quarter of all white workers, over age 18 (28%).  So Black workers are almost three times as likely to be sub-living wage workers than whites.

Paycheck racism in Tompkins County, as bad as it is, is only the tip of the problem. These figures cover only workers, those in the labor force at any time. But in recent years we know that the lack of living-wage jobs have pushed an increasing number of men out of the labor force, as has the large number who are incarcerated. And we know from national data that these trends disproportionately affect Blacks, so the gap between what Blacks and whites earn is even worse than just looking at wage data alone.

“At a time when ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become an opportunity for mostly performative and symbolic gestures of support in many communities, these numbers show the urgent need for substantive programs of redistribution to address entrenched disparities of race and class. Black life cannot not truly ‘matter’ as long as Black workers and other vulnerable people of color are disproportionately trapped in economic insecurity”, says Russell Rickford, Black Lives Matter Ithaca leader and Associate Professor of History at Cornell University.

“Making the minimum wage a living wage,” said Pete Meyers, Tompkins County Workers’ Center Coordinator, “is the single most significant thing we can do locally and across the State to improve lives and reduce the racist wage and earning gaps between whites and Blacks.”

“Our research confirms that Black workers are concentrated in lower paying jobs,” said Russell Weaver, Director of Research, Cornell-ILR Buffalo Co-Lab. “This data makes clear how racism permeates our society, exacerbates inequality, and holds back progress for Black men, women and their families.”