Defining Income

Annual Income is the sum of all the wages, salaries, profits, interests payments, rents, and other forms of earnings that a household  receives in a year. Income inequality exacerbates wealth inequality, and the two combine to increase inequality in access to health, transportation, education, and food services, among others. For families that do not have much or any money in savings or investments, income through wages/salary is the primary way to make ends meet. Differences in income by race lead directly to race-related differences in quality of life.

NYS Income Disparities by Race

The chart below has data for median annual household income in the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County for the year 2015.

Source: American Community Survey, Charts B19013(A-G)

The median income of Black, American Indian, Asian, Latinx, and mixed-race households is about (or, roughly) $25,000 per year less than the median income of white households, both in the city of Ithaca and in Tompkins County. This disadvantage contributes directly to disparities in access to food, healthcare, transportation, entertainment, and the ability to accumulate household wealth.

Local Income Disparities by Race

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center has reported on research (conducted in partnership with Cornell’s College of Industrial and Labor Relations) indicating that close to three quarters (74%) of Black workers in Tompkins County earn less than a living wage, defined as $15.37 per hour for Tompkins County. This is nearly two and a half times the rate of white workers (28.6%) earning below a livable wage.

The American Community Survey has 2015 data showing wages for job titles within important sectors of the Tompkins County economy broken down by race. In almost every case white workers are paid the most on average. Since Tompkins County is the home of Cornell, Ithaca College, and TC3, the “Educational Services” sector is of particular note. The data for the job title of “postsecondary teachers” is below.

Tompkins County Postsecondary Teachers Average Annual Income by Race (2015):

RaceNumber SurveyedAverage Wage
Two or More Races82$34,185

Although the category of “postsecondary teachers” is vague and the sample sizes are by necessity very different, the data are still significant. A possible explanation for the dramatic disparity is that many more Black postsecondary teachers are adjuncts or only teaching a single course or two per year and are not full time or tenured faculty. This disparity in hiring is a constant problem (perhaps best viewed as a recurrent outcome of historic structural barriers) faced by universities across the country.

In the second most common occupation, Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, white people average $35,264, vs $20,025 for black people and $18,653 for Asian people.

In the second most common occupation, Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, white people average $35,264, vs $20,025 for black people and $18,653 for Asian people. Again, the sample of Black and Asian people is quite small, and the mix of supervisory and entry-level positions is unknown, but the pattern is consistent.

A similar look at “Janitors and Building Cleaners” shows that on average in Tompkins County white janitors make $26,345 annually while black janitors make $21,448. This disparity is more straightforward because there is probably less variance in the job descriptions.