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24 Mar 2023

New report finds U.S. Black apprentices underrepresented and underpaid

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March 24, 2023 Category: Week In Review Posted by:

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, America’s Black think tank, released “Five Charts To Understand Black Registered Apprentices in the United States” on Monday detailing the experiences of Black apprentices. The issue brief reveals that Black apprentices are underpaid compared to their peers from other racial and ethnic groups, in addition to being underrepresented in registered apprenticeship programs. 

Registered apprenticeships, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, are paid training programs that aim to connect workers to well-paying jobs. Some of the most common industries associated with apprenticeships include construction, electrical services, plumbing, and even healthcare occupations. This report analyzes data reported in the Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System (RAPIDS) from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

“Apprenticeships provide critical pathways for workers to land good jobs where they can build unique skills and make a fair wage to provide for their families,” said Justin Nalley, senior policy analyst of the Joint Center’s Workforce Policy Program.  “People entering the workforce can earn as they learn, avoiding mountains of student debt for their future careers. Unfortunately, like many federal programs in our nation’s history, Black workers have been blocked from unlocking the full potential of apprenticeship programs. This report not only details the barriers that Black apprentices and aspiring apprentices face — like low wages, racist labor standards and lack of upward mobility — but the solutions that policymakers need to enact for more racially equitable outcomes. A more equitable national apprenticeship is a step toward ensuring Black workers have the opportunity to thrive.” 

According to the Joint Center’s report, Black apprentices are:

• Underrepresented in apprenticeship programs, making up only 9% of all registered apprentices, despite being 12.3% of our workforce.

• Least likely to complete programs, coming in at a 41% completion rate compared to 47% for Hispanic apprentices, 48% for white and Native American apprentices, and 49% for Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) apprentices. 

• The lowest earners among their peers in other racial and ethnic groups, on average, exiting their programs at a wage of $25/hour, while Hispanic apprentices exit at $26/hour, white apprentices exit at $28/hour, and AAPI apprentices exit at $30/hour. 

• Concentrated in construction, with 40% of all Black apprentices in the construction field, facing ongoing discrimination and exclusion from high-paying supervisorial and managerial roles.

• Concentrated in the South, in states like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana, that have weak labor standards and lesser pay —  apprentices in the South earn only 64 cents for every dollar that apprentices in the Western half of the country make upon exit from an apprenticeship program. 

To address the issues Black apprentices and potential apprentices face, the Joint Center recommended the following policy solutions: 

• Establish permanent funding for increasing equity in apprenticeships. 

• Eliminate barriers to entry for people with low incomes. 

• Encourage college credit for apprenticeship training.

• Develop a national system to track unregistered apprenticeship outcomes.

The United States recently celebrated 85 years of the National Apprenticeship Act, which established the first national system of registered apprenticeship programs. Since the act’s passing, millions of workers have obtained apprenticeship training. 

Like most education and training pathways, the innovative expansion of apprenticeship programs over the past years came with exclusionary policies and practices that blocked Black workers from the benefits of apprenticeship. 

It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the federal government set forth minimum non-discrimination standards in apprenticeships. The report was authored by Dr. Alex Camardelle, former director of Workforce Policy at the Joint Center. Camardelle now serves as the vice president of policy and research at the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative. 

The Joint Center’s Workforce Policy research centers Black communities in policy debates concerning the future of work, workforce development, and access to good jobs.

The full report, “Five Charts To Understand Black Registered Apprentices in the United States,” is available at:

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