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A competent vocational consultant knows the power to earn an income is a function of the capacity to perform work in the competitive local labor market, and the capacity to perform work is based on individual mental and physical abilities (worker traits). After assessing a worker’s individual and physical abilities as part of a comprehensive vocational evaluation, the consultant performs Local Labor Market Research which adds ecological validity to wage determination. This research answers the question “Can this worker, given his or her specific worker traits, perform work that is available in their local competitive labor market? If so, what is the prevailing wage for that work?” Put another way, the question answered is “Is there a Viable and Stable Labor Market in which this person can work?”

There are other factors that impact wage – geographic location, supply and demand for the product or service, and the economy, just to name a few. A qualified vocational consultant takes all relevant factors into consideration and determines the impact on wages and earning potential.

If you ask an average employer what determines a worker’s wage, they will typically answer skill, experience, and education, depending on the work setting. However, there are other worker characteristics that are related to wage, although those relationships aren’t always clear. Among them are age, gender, race, and disability.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics collects quarterly employment and wage data on all U.S. workers and publishes the median weekly earnings by age, gender, and race. Third-quarter 2021 data showed median weekly earnings for all U.S. workers, age 16 and older, was only slightly less than all U.S. workers aged 55 and older, $1001 and $1110 respectively. There was a slightly larger difference between all working men and all working women, $1100 and $916 respectively, and an even larger gap between all men and all women’s median weekly earnings at age 55 and older – $1216 and $953 respectively. Men, regardless of age, make more than women in the U.S.

If one further analyzes wage data for 55 years and older to determine earnings differences related to race, the pay gap increases. White and Asian workers earned significantly more than African Americans and Hispanics once they hit age 55. Asian workers 55 years and older earned $1148 and White workers earned $1146 while African American workers of the same age earned $871 and Hispanic workers earned $827. In the U.S., Whites and Asians make more money than African Americans and Hispanics.

Add gender into the mix and the gap widens even more, with older African American and Hispanic women earning significantly less than White and Asian women, who are already making less than their male counterparts. White women aged 55 and older made $958 compared to their male counterparts making $1261. Asian men aged 55 and older earned $1251 while their female counterparts earned $1010. African American men aged 55 and older earned slightly less than their female counterparts, $879 and $862 respectively, while Hispanic women 55 and older earned only $750 weekly compared to Hispanic men of the same age earning $900. For workers aged 55 and older, the highest median weekly earnings of all races and gender were White males, and the lowest median weekly earnings of all races and gender were Hispanic females. In other words, in the 2021 third quarter in the U.S., older Hispanic women had the lowest earnings.

The relationship between disability and age is more difficult to analyze in that the U.S. Department of Labor collects only select data – labor force participation rate, unemployment rate, educational attainment, gender/age of those employed, and a few occupation groups in which persons with disabilities are employed – but only at the national (not state) level, and not every characteristic is reported on every year. This makes it challenging to determine the impact of an injury, illness, or disability on wages.

Of course, earnings also vary depending on the worker’s industry. Sometimes industry data is found on the Department of Labor website, and other times it is found in Professional Salary Surveys, Trade Associations, or in labor union/bargaining contracts.

Written by: Dr. Leslie Lloyd, RhD, CRC, IPEC, ABVE-D