The race gap in US employment has disappeared for one age group: workers 65 and over

The closing of the gap is partly thanks to an aging white population and a tight labor market

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A sign on a storefront that reads "help wanted apply within"
US labor shortages have contributed to the diminishing race gap in employment
Photo: Tim Boyle (Getty Images)

The race gap in employment between Black and white US workers has nearly closed for people 65 and over, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In the last 10 years, the gap in the black-white employment-to-population ratio, which measures the share of all employed workers out of the total working-age population, has diminished from 1.3 to 0.8 in this age group.


But the picture is nuanced. The tightened gap is driven in part by more white Americans dropping out of the labor force due to retirement. The typical white worker is almost four years older than the typical Black worker, according to the BLS. With those working over 65, that may also signal working out of need, Russell Weaver, the director of research for the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations Buffalo Co-Lab, said in an interview.


Labor shortages are helping to close race employment gaps

Labor shortages have also benefitted minority workers. Employers, during the past few years, have had trouble filling certain jobs, particularly, in low-wage work. “We’re not seeing potentially as much racial discrimination in hiring practices as we’ve been seeing before because employers are looking to fill slots very, very rapidly,” Weaver said.

Black employment levels have historically suffered in part due to discrimination in hiring that has been evident for years, as well as mass incarceration dampening employment prospects.

More Black women are entering the workforce

Another factor closing the gap? Employment rates of Black women compared to white women have increased, which Weaver told Quartz could be more out of necessity than out of luxury.


While the gap has closed for those 65 and over, the employment divergence between Black and white Americans of other age groups still exists. Workers in the 54-to-64 age group may face both racial and age discrimination, Weaver said.

Meanwhile, for so-called prime-age workers, those between 25 and 64, the gap continues to narrow, as employment rates of Black Americans have surpassed pre-pandemic levels of February 2020. A tight labor market could partially explain that, but it’s also not clear whether these are better-quality jobs for these workers.