It's important to disaggregate occupational data by race/ethnicity

By Tiffany Gallegos-Whitley

This past month, my colleague Dr. Jeremy Rhodes presented the Waco Snapshot Report along with some of our wonderful community leaders. It was great getting to see this collaborative project highlighting our community come to fruition.

While we recognize our community has made great progress over the years, I’m continually drawn to the question the report brings up: “But for whom has progress been made?” If we want to keep an equity lens to our work, we continually ask this question and seek ways to do better.

In the workforce space, there has been a lot of great economic development happening over these past years. New businesses are coming to town, with many offering wages over $15/hour and comprehensive benefits packages. We also continue to have a strong and diverse mix of industry in our region, with a number of stable, high paying jobs that do not require a college degree.

Who are getting these jobs though? Based on the Snapshot report, we know White residents earn $55,101 in median household income while Hispanic/Latino and Black residents earn $39,552 and $29,285, respectively. These are significant income gaps, particularly between our White and Black residents.

To dig deeper, I’ve compiled labor market data over the past year that disaggregates occupational data by race and ethnicity. It’s no small feat, as there isn’t one source of publicly available data where you can compare average wage by occupation along with employment disaggregated by race/ethnicity.

When I looked at our top 25 current jobs with the most people employed, I was able to see that most of the highest paying jobs (those above the Texas annual median wage of $39,637) fall within the management, business, and finance Census occupation code. I then used this occupation code to look at the number and percent of race/ethnicities employed in management, business, and finance occupations in McLennan County. While approximately 41% of White residents are employed in these occupations, only about 18% of our Hispanic/Latino and Black residents are working these types of jobs.

Natural resource, construction, and maintenance occupations are the next highest paying occupational category. I found that our Hispanic/Latino residents represent the highest percentage employed in this category at 18%, with White residents at 9% and Black residents at 4%. While it is positive to see a number of our Hispanic/Latino residents employed in a higher paying occupational category, I still see opportunity for us to close some of these occupational gaps.

While there isn’t a free public database to drill down by race/ethnicity into specific job titles within these Census occupational categories, Texas Labor Analysis does provide detailed labor and wage reports by job titles. I’ve found this tool helpful in looking at our current and future employment trends, employment gaps, wages, and education/training levels required for high demand jobs. It’s a start to look at this data and, as much as possible, compare it to our local employment by race/ethnicity.

If we are going to be equitable in our recruitment and training efforts for high demand occupations, we have to continually ask, “For whom is economic development positively impacting?” This takes intentionality and digging deeper into the data so racial/ethnic occupational disparities aren’t masked behind high level aggregate data.

Thankfully, we have some great leaders in our community supporting workforce equity by doing the work of intentionally recruiting and training underrepresented populations for high demand jobs. I encourage anyone in the workforce space to check out Texas Labor Analysis. And as always, I’m happy to talk about the labor market data we’ve worked on this past year. Let’s continue the work!

Tiffany Gallegos-Whitley is director of workforce initiatives with Prosper Waco.