Underemployment is defined as: the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs. In the United States, underemployment affects individuals who fall into any combination of demographics, however, underemployment disproportionately affects women and minority groups. In terms of both racial and gender differences, this disproportionate effect may be attributed it historical discrepancies in hiring patterns and discrimination within the labor market. Federal legislation has attempted to eliminate the worst forms of hiring discrimination that would directly affect underemployment rates for women and minority groups, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being the most noteworthy. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, relation, sex, or national origin “in all employment practices, including hiring, firing, promotion, compensation and provision of benefits.”

The lingering gap between racial groups may be attributed to a lack of higher paying job opportunities in minority-majority areas, especially densely populated minority neighborhoods of urban areas. With the recent economic downturn, underemployment rates for minority groups, exempting Asian Americans, have been higher than underemployment rates White Americans. In October-December 2009, the underemployment rates for different racial groups were: Asian American, 4.7%; White American (non-Hispanic), 5.2%; Black American (non-Hispanic), 7.5%; and Hispanic, 12.0%.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the continued differences between genders in relation to underemployment may be related to a number of factors, but one that varies greatly between minority groups is a woman as the head of single-parent households. Because Black and Hispanic women head more single-parent households, discrimination facing women in general weighs heavier on these groups. More recently, with the Great Recession of 2007-2009, underemployment rates between men and women have been more equal, with a 6.5% underemployment rate for men and a 6.4% underemployment rate for women. However, these numbers do not take into consideration the intersectional differences between genders within minority groups.


Explaining the Gender Pay Gap

Controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors normally associated with pay, college-educated women still earn less than their male peers.

Completing a college degree greatly enhances a woman’s earning potential and helps to reduce the gender pay gap. However, the type of college degree sought has a major impact on a woman’s earning potential. Both men and women that major in female-dominated career fields earn significantly less than men and women that major in male-dominated career fields. Nonetheless, one year after graduation, women earn less than men with the same college degree across all fields, regardless of which gender dominates it.

Things that play a role in the gender gap:

Occupational choices–Women are more likely to work in nonprofit and local government sectors than men.

Parenthood–Women are more likely to work part-time, take leave, or take a break from the workforce than men. Mothers earn less than childless women. Both groups of women earn less than men. Being less than fully employed significantly decreases the lifetime potential earnings of mothers.


A comparison of US-born Blacks and Whites vs. Black Immigrants

Popular myth says that black immigrants do much better than their ethnic US-born counterparts. Black immigrants are usually described as hard working family-oriented entrepreneurs that value higher education while US-born blacks are often presented as lacking all of these characteristics. To add insult to injury, US-born blacks are often described as also carrying “victimhood baggage.”

All black male populations earn less than US-born white, non-Hispanic men:
- US-born black men earn 19.1 percent less
- West Indian men earn 20.7 percent less
- Haitian men earn 33.8 percent less
- African men earn 34.7 percent less

All black female populations earn less than US-born white, non-Hispanic women:
- US-born black women earn 10.1 percent less
- West Indian women earn 8.3 percent less
- African women earn 10.1 percent less
- Haitian women earn 18.6 percent less

While African immigrants obtain college degrees at greater rates than all US-born Americans and black immigrants, they fail to complete high school at higher rates than whites.

US-born blacks have the highest rate of unemployment out of all groups of white and black men. While foreign-born blacks all have lower rates of unemployment, they still have far higher rates of unemployment when compared to whites. US-born blacks also have the highest poverty rate of all groups. Yet again, all groups of black immigrants have significantly higher rates of poverty than whites.

When comparing the wages of black immigrants relative to US-born whites and blacks, it is clear that black male immigrants make far less in weekly wages. All groups of black women make less than US-born white, non-Hispanic women. With the exception of West Indian women, all black female immigrants make less than US-born black women. The discrepancy between higher wages and also higher poverty for US-born blacks can be explained with higher unemployment rates and lower marriage rates.

In conclusion, it is clear that black immigrant groups do relatively poor in finding work, making a good income, and staying out of poverty and that black immigrants are not consistently better off than US-born blacks. US-born and foreign-born blacks have common problems that need to be addressed.

Asian Americans – Combatting the “Model Minority” myth

The “model minority” concept refers to the idea that Asian Americans are more educationally and economically successful than other minority groups. The term was coined by sociologist William Peterson who decided that Asian American cultural values prevented Asian Americans from becoming, wait for it – a “problem minority.” The Model Minority myth only serves to lump hundreds of Asian ethnic narratives into one single dehumanizing account while “whitewashing” major problems with racism in the United States.

The Model Minority stereotype hides the extreme ranges of income by ethnic group. The stereotype overlooks the different social and political histories and immigration patterns of various Asian ethnic groups that end up informing issues of systemic poverty and discrimination across the board. Generally speaking, Asian American educational success has contributed to occupational achievement and earnings parity with whites. Although Asian American men seem to make as much money as their white counterparts, this is largely due to educational overachievement, longer working hours, and their geographic concentration in higher-income states.

One theory explaining the relative success of certain populations of Asian Americans says that discriminatory immigration laws cut off Asian immigration while their numbers were still small. The indirect result of this is that Asians were regarded as less of a threat to whites than blacks. As a result, the small pool of Asian Americans was able to do fairly well in the occupations that they were allowed to enter into. Another theory for why Asian Americans have done well is because the US immigration selection process is biased in favor of immigrants with higher levels of education, labor skills, and a good command of English. This enables newer immigrants to enter the primary labor market and compete successfully without starting on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

Due to the Model Minority stereotype, Asian Americans are often excluded from assistance programs. In fact, Asian American Pacific Islander serving institutions were not eligible for federal funding and did not receive federal recognition until 2007, with the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. Asian Americans are also consistently given less preference in affirmative action programs because of their high degree of educational success as a group.