Discrimination in the labor market continues to impede economic mobility for Black workers in Atlanta. On average, white job applicants receive 36 percent more callbacks than equally qualified Black applicants who apply for the same jobs.103 Legal, racist hiring practices also hurt Black job seekers impacted by mass incarceration. Public access to criminal records and requiring job applicants to reveal whether they have a criminal record lead to higher rates of discrimination among Black jobseekers.104 Black workers are 13 percent of the U.S. workforce, but they file 26 percent of the racial discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and its partner agencies.105
When doors to job opportunities with better pay and benefits are closed for Black people, their wealth-building opportunities are stymied. For instance, studies show that Black wealth would increase 25 percent if access to employer-based health coverage was equal to that of white people and 53 percent more wealth if pension rates were equalized.106
Creating jobs in Atlanta is not an end in itself, though many mistakenly think this to be true. There is no value in creating jobs if those jobs do not create wealth for whole communities or the jobs do not help workers acquire assets. And yet, job creation in an important economic development tool that can help Black Atlantans acquire the assets necessary to build wealth. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s job creation practices and policies lure development away from their neighborhoods. The map below shows eighty-five percent of all jobs in Atlanta are located in majority-white neighborhood planning units (NPUs) on the city’s northside, severely limiting employment options for residents in South Atlanta where most Black workers live.107
It is not enough to focus solely on job creation as an indicator. Instead, focus must shift to the creation of quality jobs in majority Black communities. Historically, disinvested neighborhoods in Atlanta have faced a disproportionately bad labor market. Moreover, incentives have failed to drive asset building jobs into Black neighborhoods. For instance, analysis shows that jobs created in majority Black neighborhoods in Atlanta are concentrated in low paying industries, which are notorious for offering fewer asset building tools like retirement funds, health care, and paid leave.
Figure 30 shows that access to higher-paying jobs is closely associated with race and place. Atlanta neighborhoods with more Black residents have fewer jobs that offer earnings of $3,333 per month or more. In other words, the more Black residents there are, the fewer high-paying jobs are available in Atlanta. These economic development policy choices cement earnings disparities that limit opportunities to build Black wealth in the city. Despite modest growth in earnings between 2010 and 2022, the median earnings of Black workers trail far behind those of white workers.
Despite Atlanta’s reputation for having a strong professional class of Black workers, there is still a great deal of occupational segregation. Owing to a history of systematic discrimination and public policies that have acted to reenforce and widen the wage divide between Black and white workers, clear patterns in the labor force demonstrate that a disproportionally large share of Black workers are concentrated in low-wage industries. In Atlanta, Black workers account for the vast majority of industries that pay poverty wages. For instance, Black workers are 88 percent of the administrative, support, and waste management industry in the city – an industry that typically pays just $25,252 annually.108
Investments in workforce training and upskilling have kept the focus on individual solutions rather than on the broader exclusionary policies and practices that shape labor market opportunities and outcomes in Atlanta. Job training emphasizes personal responsibility, which compounds the effects of structural racism that spans the lives of Black job seekers. This focus on personal responsibility in skills training policies and programs carries the extraordinary expectation that nothing will interfere with Black workers’ individual effort to access good, asset building jobs—not even racism.