ATLANTA (AP) — Black workers nationwide are chronically underrepresented in high-salary jobs in technology, business and engineering, among other fields, an Associated Press analysis of government data shows.
Instead, many black workers find jobs in low-wage, less prestigious fields where they’re overrepresented, such as food service or preparation, building maintenance and office work, the AP analysis found.
The disparities persist 50 years after the death of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for - among other things - equal employment opportunities.
In King’s hometown of Atlanta, the situation appears better for African-American professionals. The proportional representation of black-to-white workers is even in many fields, the AP’s analysis shows.
The success of African-American professionals in Atlanta can be attributed to a succession of black mayors and a cluster of well-regarded, historically black universities, experts say.
Atlanta’s first black mayor Maynard Jackson pressed for policies aimed at helping African-American professionals following his election in 1973.
In 1996, “the Olympics opened the door for a second wave of the entrepreneurial spirit that Maynard Jackson introduced in the 1970s,” said Kendra A. King Momon, a professor of politics at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University.
The city is home to historically black colleges and universities such as Morehouse and Spelman colleges, providing “a rich set of intellectual capital that in many instances chooses to stay in the Atlanta region,” said Douglas Cooper, director of career services and special programs in the Morehouse division of business administration and economics.
Though Atlanta has been known as “the black Mecca,” the statistics sometimes overshadow the plight of its poor black residents, some experts say.
“The fruits of this success were not, and have never been, shared equitably,” historian Maurice J. Hobson writes in his 2017 book “The Legend of the Black Mecca.”
“As much as Atlanta had changed, the same poor blacks who had taken to the streets in the urban uprisings of the 1960s had benefited little during the decades that followed,” wrote Hobson, assistant professor of African-American studies at Georgia State University.
“A divide between the black elite and the black poor had always riven Atlanta’s social fabric,” he wrote. “Even after the city government shifted from white to black hands, its leaders pursued policies that benefited white and black elites to the exclusion of the vast majority of the black citizens who had brought them to power.”