U.S. occupations by race

Looking at data on the types of occupations in which U.S. worker are employed, we would expect to see that race is not a serious factor in the distribution of jobs. That is, the percentage of individuals working in management within a given race should be roughly equal across races, and the percentage of those working in service jobs should be roughly equal across races.

We do not see that in this data. As the tables below show, we do see rough parity in some occupations, like office and administrative jobs and production jobs, but there are marked gaps in most other occupations.

The management, business, and financial occupations include roles like CEO, engineering manager, management analyst, and accountant. 20% of White workers are employed in roles that fall into this category. By contrast, 11.5% of Black workers are employed in these roles.

Service occupations include jobs like medical assistants, fire fighters, food preparation worker, food servers, maids and house cleaners, pest control, lobby attendants and ticket takers, and home care aides. Of the Black employed population, 24.2% are employed in these roles. Comparatively, 13.8% of White workers are in these roles.

Note, this is not a value judgment on any specific occupation or role. That is, this isn’t to be read as there are “good jobs” and “bad jobs”. Engineers and lawyers are important and necessary jobs, but so are janitors and cashiers. That said, there are occupations that come with typically higher pay, better benefits, more time off, more flexibility, etc. There are likewise jobs that come with more physical risk — a point particularly notable at the time of this writing, as Covid-19 creates additional risk for certain occupations (like service workers). In an equal society, we wouldn’t expect to see race playing a role in who is employed in occupations with, for example, higher pay potential versus those in occupations with higher health risk.

(Note that the data below is civilian population, so it does not include military)

Occupation of the civilian employed population 16 years and over 2019, by race

(% of group and % of total)

Black White Other Total
Management, professional, and related occupations 32.3% 46.3% 31.5% 40.9%
– Management, business, and financial 11.5% 20.0% 12.2% 17.0%
– Professional and related 20.8% 26.4% 19.4% 23.9%
Service occupations 24.2% 13.8% 21.9% 17.1%
Sales and office occupations 21.4% 21.6% 20.0% 21.2%
– Sales and related 8.7% 10.5% 9.2% 9.9%
– Office and administrative 12.7% 11.2% 10.7% 11.2%
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations 0.2% 0.5% 1.5% 0.7%
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations 5.2% 7.5% 11.2% 8.2%
– Construction and extraction 2.9% 4.4% 8.4% 5.2%
– Installation, maintenance, and repair 2.3% 3.1% 2.8% 3.0%
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations 16.6% 10.2% 14.0% 11.9%
– Production 6.1% 5.0% 6.8% 5.6%
– Transportation and material moving 10.6% 5.3% 7.2% 6.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Source: Census.gov, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2019/demo/race/ppl-ba19.html

We can look at the same data in terms of the share of each occupation for each race. In this case, our expectation would be that the share for each race is roughly equivalent to that race’s representation in the overall U.S. population.

In specific terms, 13.4% of the U.S. population is Black, so we could expect that consistently across occupations 13.4% of employees would be Black.

Alternatively, we could assume that the distribution by race across occupations would be similar to the distribution by race of all employees. Black workers are 12.2% of the overall employed population, so in this case, we’d expect to see that Black workers represent roughly 12.2% of the workers across occupations.

Looked at this way, we can likewise see that occupations where Black workers are over-represented include service occupations and transportation and material occupations (the latter including jobs like air traffic control, bus drivers, crane operators, taxi drivers, and freight laborers). Occupations where Black workers are under-represented include management, business, and financial occupations and construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations (brick- and stonemasons, carpenters, electricians, roofers, highway maintenance, derrick operators, mining machine operators).

Of note, while Black workers are notably under-represented in construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations, so are White workers. It is the Other race category that is over-represented for these occupations.

Occupation share of the civilian employed population 16 years and over 2019, by race

(% of each occupation by race)

Black White Other
Management, professional, and related occupations 9.6% 70.7% 19.6%
– Management, business, and financial 8.3% 73.5% 18.3%
– Professional and related 10.6% 68.8% 20.6%
Service occupations 17.3% 50.2% 32.5%
Sales and office occupations 12.3% 63.7% 24.0%
– Sales and related 10.6% 65.8% 23.6%
– Office and administrative 13.8% 61.9% 24.3%
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations 4.2% 43.9% 52.0%
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations 7.8% 57.4% 34.8%
– Construction and extraction 6.8% 52.5% 40.7%
– Installation, maintenance, and repair 9.6% 65.9% 24.5%
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations 17.0% 53.3% 29.7%
– Production 13.3% 55.6% 31.1%
– Transportation and material moving 20.2% 51.3% 28.5%
Total 12.2% 62.4% 25.4%
Source: Census.gov, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2019/demo/race/ppl-ba19.html

Finally, we can look at the data by the total number of employees employed in a given occupation. Here, we can look at the occupations where the largest total number of workers are employed.

For example, 25.7 million White workers are employed in professional and related occupations (computer systems analysts, web developers, civil engineers, psychologists, social workers, lawyers, teachers, etc.). That’s the largest total number of White employees among the sub-groupings. Meanwhile, 6.4 million Black workers are employed in service occupations, the largest total number in a sub-grouping.

Occupation of the civilian employed population 16 years and over 2019, by race

(in thousands)

Black White Other Total
Management, professional, and related occupations 6,160 45,193 12,552 63,905
– Management, business, and financial 2,195 19,490 4,843 26,528
– Professional and related 3,965 25,703 7,709 37,377
Service occupations 4,624 13,443 8,709 26,776
Sales and office occupations 4,078 21,116 7,942 33,136
– Sales and related 1,654 10,228 3,669 15,551
– Office and administrative 2,424 10,888 4,273 17,585
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations 47 493 584 1,124
Construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations 996 7,337 4,456 12,789
– Construction and extraction 551 4,283 3,323 8,157
– Installation, maintenance, and repair 445 3,054 1,133 4,632
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations 3,173 9,962 5,553 18,688
– Production 1,156 4,833 2,700 8,689
– Transportation and material moving 2,017 5,129 2,852 9,998
Total 19,078 97,544 39,796 156,418
Source: Census.gov, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2019/demo/race/ppl-ba19.html

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