Labor market policies aimed at protecting workers, such as the minimum wage and unemployment insurance (UI) were designed in the New Deal era and deliberately excluded Black workers. Though subsequent reforms increased wages and expanded UI benefits for Black workers, disparities in earnings, income, and wealth between Black and white workers has widened since the 1970s. The declining value of the federal minimum wage and state-level variation in the generosity of UI benefits have likely contributed to these gaps, reinforced by pandemic-era UI programs authorized by the federal CARES Act.
New evidence is needed to fully grasp how the minimum wage and the federal-state UI program have both mitigated and exacerbated racial inequality. Economists Ellora Derenoncourt and Claire Montialoux, both based at the University of California, Berkeley, will build upon earlier work that created historical databases of minimum wages over decades by building a similar database for employment and UI benefit receipt for different racial and ethnic groups. These public-use datasets will generate critical evidence and serve as the basis for research products aimed at policymakers seeking to repair the harms of racially exclusionary labor market policies and close racial gaps in earnings, income, and wealth.