COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Blacks disproportionately hold low-paying jobs while being underrepresented among South Carolina's highest paying professions, according to a newspaper analysis.
More than 40 percent of food preparation and housekeeping jobs are held by blacks, The State newspaper reported Sunday. Only 7 percent of the state's lawyers and just 4 percent of real estate brokers are black.
According to U.S. Census data, about one-third of the state's population is black.
The gap between incomes for blacks and whites shrunk from 1989 to 1999, but on a per capita basis, blacks still earned 53 cents for every dollar earned by whites in 1999. That was up from 48 cents versus a dollar in 1989, according to U.S. Census figures.
Some say education makes the difference and others add that getting into the upper echelons requires networking opportunities that blacks often don't have.
"There's a correlation between access and race relations," said J.T. McLawhorn, executive director of the Columbia Urban League. "Without the relationships with people in the know, you're unaware of that timeline between when it's known a position will be available and when it's advertised. You miss out."
While everyone earned more in the 1990s, the lingering gap still means a good proportion of the state's residents earn little - making it hard for businesses to sell their goods and making it more difficult for the state to afford programs such as schools or a reduction in income taxes.
On a national level, the National Urban League's "State of Black America 2004" report found that black men earn 70 percent of what white men earn each year; black women early 83 percent what white women earn.
"You have to drill down in the segment where it's substantially lower if you're trying to raise the per-capita income overall," said Jim Fields, executive director of the Palmetto Institute. "But it's a long-term project because you don't raise per-capita income or make miracles overnight."
The Palmetto Institute is part of the South Carolina Competitiveness Initiative, a public-private coalition is working to reshape the state's economy by developing plans for distressed areas and determining how to measure progress.
Among the positives are an improvement in diversity of workers at public-sector employers. Education-related jobs and city and county government employment more closely reflect the state's estimated 30 percent black population, according to the newspaper's analysis of Census 2000 jobs data.
In education, there was a high of 38 percent of teacher assistants who were black and a low of 12 percent of special education or post-secondary teachers who were black. Somewhere in the middle is education administration, in which 23 percent of employees were black.
H. MiUndrae Prince, principal of Columbia High for five years, said he is one of only a few black men in his area of study at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
"The higher you go in education administration, the more the numbers seem to taper off," said Prince, who is in his 30s. "Research shows the typical high school principal is a white male in his 50s and that many people - even if they're certified - aren't pursuing being a principal because the job is very demanding."
Still, some say, the answer may lie in networking.
Gary Washington, chief executive officer of the Carolina Procurement Institute in Columbia, represents 120 small, women- and minority-owned companies in getting commercial, state and federal contracts.
"I don't turn away from nominations to boards or any avenues instrumental in meeting, greeting and exposure," he said. "Relationships open doors."