Food and Race

Whites make more money than non-whites throughout our food distribution system.

An activist group called Applied Research Center has put out a new report titled “The Color of Food,” which documents racial disparities in earnings in America’s food supply chain. In a blog post summarizing the findings, they produce this eye-opening chart:

Among the findings:

People of color typically make less than whites working in the food chain. Half of white food workers earn $25,024 a year, while workers of color make $5,675 less than that. This wage gap plays out in all four sectors of the food system—production, processing, distribution and service—with largest income divides occurring in the food processing and distribution sectors. Women working in the food chain draw further penalties in wages, especially women of color. For every dollar a white male worker earns, women of color earn almost half of that.

Few people of color hold management positions in the food system. Whites dominate high-wage professional and management occupations; three out of every four managers in the food system are white. Almost half of white men working in the food chain were employed as managers, while less than 10 percent of workers of color held comparable positions.

People of color are concentrated in low-wage jobs in the food chain. According to the 2008 Census, people of color make up 34.6 percent of the population (that percentage is expected to rise as 2010 Census data becomes available). But workers of color are represented at a level almost one and a half times that in sectors of the food chain. For instance, 50 percent of food production workers are people of color. This includes farm workers, 65 percent of whom are Latino.

None of this will surprise anyone who’s been paying attention. But it would be a mistake to conclude that the wage gap is based on racial discrimination rather than broader societal inequities.

Skimming through the full report [PDF], there’s no evidence that even obvious variables aside from race and gender were accounted for. For example, one would expect those with MBAs to make more than high school drop outs, since they’re likely working in different parts of the system. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between manning the cash register at Mickey D’s and being the maitre d’ at a four-star restaurant.

Even more bizarrely, the authors act as if racial groups are evenly represented in society, rather than whites being by far the modal group in the country.

via Andrew Sullivan.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Food, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    For example, one would expect those with MBAs to make more than high school drop outs,

    You’re implied assumption being what James? That an MBA is far more likely to be white and a high school drop out to be black? Why is that?

  2. EddieInCA says:

    People of color typically make less than whites. working in the food chain.

    Fixed.

    Few people of color hold management positions. in the food system.

    Fixed.

    People of color are concentrated in low-wage jobs. in the food chain.

    Fixed.

  3. john personna says:

    Do people still get MBAs? That seems very 80’s. I think it’s all Finance now.

  4. mantis says:

    You’re implied assumption being what James? That an MBA is far more likely to be white and a high school drop out to be black? Why is that?

    Well, if you ask Andy “Bell Curve” Sullivan, it’s because black folks are genetically inferior.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @tom p:

    Is it really in dispute that blacks are less well educated in aggregate than whites?

  6. john personna says:

    It was kind of funny how tom put that on you, James.

  7. jwest says:

    “…That an MBA is far more likely to be white and a high school drop out to be black?…”

    I can’t imagine anyone not knowing this, so I assume tom p. is inferring we shouldn’t say it out loud.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    In some areas of the service portion at least it is in fact overt, deliberate racial discrimination.

    Restaurants with table service won’t hire African-Americans or Hispanics to wait tables. They’ll hire them to wash dishes or prep cook, but not to wait tables. Waiters make a lot more than dishwashers.

  9. Gustopher says:

    This chart tells me one thing: it is nice to be white.

    Beyond that, whether the causes are outright discrimination in employment, a lack of educational opportunities that lead to the higher paid positions, or a genetic predisposition to negotiate lower wages — the chart tells me nothing.

    But, it really is nice to be white.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: “This chart tells me one thing: it is nice to be white.”

    While I tend to share Louis CK’s wisdom on this front, the chart doesn’t really even tell us that. It may just be nice to be well educated, speak the patois of the upper middle class, have friends who manage restaurants, and all manner of other things are are unevenly distributed among the races for a variety of social and historical reasons.

    @michael reynolds: “Restaurants with table service won’t hire African-Americans or Hispanics to wait tables.”

    Again, I’m sure there’s a lot of that. But I’ve been in some pricey joints and had plenty of black and Hispanic waiters. There again, though, they’re the right kind of non-white employees in terms of speech patterns, haircuts, demeanor, or so forth. The same is true of the white waitstaff, of course, but these traits are not randomly distributed.

  11. mantis says:

    It may just be nice to be well educated, speak the patois of the upper middle class, have friends who manage restaurants, and all manner of other things are are unevenly distributed among the races for a variety of social and historical reasons.

    Ok, but:
    White people tend to be more well educated than others.
    White people tend to “speak the patois of the upper middle class” more than others.
    White people tend to have friends who manage restaurants more than others,

    You can say maybe it’s not whiteness, but all these characteristics more common to white people! But that’s just to repeat: it’s nice to be white.

  12. jwest says:

    McDonald’s has made important inroads in food service jobs by recognizing that inner-city employees will come from liberal-administered schools. Using technology, they have eliminated (in most cases) the need to be functionally literate and the ability to accurately make change.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    It’s been a while since I was in the restaurant bidness, but it wasn’t even subtle in those days. It was quite openly, “We can’t have a black waiter, it’ll make white customers uncomfortable. See if he’ll wash dishes.”

  14. michael reynolds says:

    jwest:

    Meanwhile In-n-Out and Chik-Fil-A follow a very different approach: they treat their employees like actual humans.

  15. jwest says:

    McDonald’s treats their employees like actual humans….. just actual humans that couldn’t escape the teachers unions so they can’t read or make change.

  16. Gustopher says:

    “It may just be nice to be well educated, speak the patois of the upper middle class, have friends who manage restaurants, and all manner of other things are are unevenly distributed among the races for a variety of social and historical reasons”

    If you’ve noticed, these things are unevenly distributed among the races in favor of whites.

    I see the chart as a moment to reflect upon my whiteness and be grateful — there’s so much sh.t that I don’t have to deal with. I’m not good at dealing with sh.t, so I’m much better off being white.

  17. Gustopher says:

    Less flippantly, if you find this chart eye-opening, you live a very sheltered life — either willfully or through naivite, or just through happenstance.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    jwest: Then how do you suppose In-N-Out and Chik-Fil-A do so well with the same publicly-educated employees?

    Think maybe your obsession with teacher’s unions is a bit, um, beside the point?

  19. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, as someone with a bit of experience in the food business — even a short stint working in fast food — let me say that outsiders who denigrate it don’t know what they’re talking about. There are few people in this world in any field that have a more demanding job than a drive-thru order-taker. They function simultaneously within the restaurant environment, in the virtual space of fuzzy voices in their ears, and with the customer at the window. They take orders, give orders, assemble orders and cue their fellow workers on a continuous basis.

    It’s damned hard work and is analogous to trying to play two different video games simultaneously.

    And I’d add that as hard as I work as a writer — and believe me, no writer who knows what I do would doubt it for a minute — it’s still easier than a double shift waiting tables in a busy restaurant. Those people often work their asses off for lousy money, no respect, physical injury while doing a job that requires mental acumen and endurance.

  20. jwest says:

    “If you’ve noticed, these things are unevenly distributed among the races in favor of whites.”

    I’m willing to make the assumption that a black MBA would be more likely to be promoted from mopping the floor to grilling then to assistant manager (where the BIG bucks are) than a illiterate white. This leads me to believe the problem lies not with the food service industry, but with the educational system.

    As an experienced conservative, I can tell you that (given the choice) we would rather exploit well educated blacks.

  21. jwest says:

    Michael,

    With the technology being tested currently in the fast food industry, you may be able to resume your previous career at the take out window from the comfort of your home.

    Due to the lack of qualified people, costs and the heavy/slack hours cycle in fast foods, along with the reduced cost of high speed voice and data, orders for the drive thru window may be taken by people working from their homes. Quite a good idea when you think about it.

    Of course, this will leave thousands of young, uneducated minorities out on the street with no hope of getting an entry level job. Perhaps then we can eliminate the unions and start teaching kids to read.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    jwest:

    Yeah, I heard about this years ago. They were going to use people in India to take orders at Macs. They abandoned the idea.

    Won’t work. Because it’s stupid.

    Voice recognition might in a year or two.

  23. jwest says:

    They could have used prisoners right here in the USA, but they seem to be products of the liberal education system too.

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    Voice recognition might in a year or two.

    Smartphone apps will make people in drivethru windows obsolete. Or at least make them a lot more productive.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    Dave:

    Absolutely. There’s an app for that. Starbucks already has one.

  26. tom p says:

    Is it really in dispute that blacks are less well educated in aggregate than whites?

    Sorry JJ… been busy today, but the question is WHY?????

    I mean really, how stupid can you be…

    BLACKS are less educated than whites…

    JJ WHERE IN THE F HAVE YOU BEEN????

    The question is, “WHY????”

  27. tom p says:

    I await your answer….

  28. tom p says:

    Is it really in dispute that blacks are less well educated in aggregate than whites?

    And james… I am so happy to see you admit that racism is inherent in the system…

    JJ; FULL STOP: Please read your self…. than come up with a solution. (one that actually works)

  29. James Joyner says:

    @tom p:

    See the reference in the original post to “broader societal inequities.”

    I don’t pretend racism no longer exists. But, compared to the world into which I was born in 1965, it’s a mere hint of a shadow.

    But there’s a legacy of a much longer history, as well as some cultural forces I don’t claim to understand. (I’d argue, for example, that some racial divergence is more pronounced than ever. Compare, say, early 1970s Motown to modern hip-hap.)

  30. tom p says:

    JJ, well enuf, but your solution is what? You started this thread noting that racism leads to certain inequities… and that, in your world because you don’t wish ill on any particular individuals…. we should ignore that fact?

    the fact that your preferred (admittedly) non-racist policies lead to racist results means what?

    JJ; my point is just this: I don’t give a damn about your intentions, let us talk about results? (and I am speaking specifically to the “broader societal inequities.”)

    But there’s a legacy of a much longer history, as well as some cultural forces I don’t claim to understand.

    Exactly… At which point humility begs us both to just shut the F up.

    We are not black. Neither of us have ANY idea what it means to be black in america. We never will.

  31. tom p says:

    But, compared to the world into which I was born in 1965, it’s a mere hint of a shadow.

    JJ: I was born in ’58, and you are absolutely correct, the world is a much better place now….

    but I can not yet forget a conversation I had with a black friend 7-10 yrs ago.

    Some red-neck was chasing them down the streets of south St. Louis with a gun…. I listened to the first 5 mins of this tale and said: “Well, I would have gone to the local Cop Shop…”

    At which point Cheryl said “NOOOOOOO!!!!!”

    because, at best, they would have ended up in jail…

    James, it IS a different world in America if one is black. Even now, I can not explain it because, quite plain and simply, I am not black.

  32. Steve Verdon says:

    Do they control for education? Just curious, since that is often a significant variable in determining wages/incomes.

  33. Steve Verdon says:

    Sorry JJ… been busy today, but the question is WHY?????

    Why are you badgering James about this when the study he is referencing doesn’t even control for education, let alone try to answer your questions and provide a solution. James works in foreign affairs more than domestic although he does touch on it in blogging. Seems like your outrage would be much better placed at the doorstep of the people who did this “study”.

    I do give them credit for using the median vs. mean wage/annual income.