City payroll data shows some are underpaid, underemployed

Joshua Irvine, Reporter

Evanston paid white employees significantly higher salaries while underpaying and employing smaller numbers of people of color, city documents from 2018 show.

Payroll data obtained by The Daily showed full-time white city employees received a median income of $91,089 in 2018, nearly $5,000 greater than the city’s overall median salary and roughly $15,000 more than black employees, the next largest racial group. White employees also composed about 76.7 percent of the 30 highest income earners on the city payroll, with an all-white, principally male group holding the five highest-paid jobs in the city — and a total of $1 million in collective income.

Evanston paid out roughly $68 million to 774 full-time employees last year.

Of those employees, 30 identified as Asian, 184 as black, 79 as Latinx, 10 as multiracial and 470 as white. Only one respondent identified as Native American.

Besides white employees, Asians were the highest paid group, receiving a median salary of $90,904 compared to the overall median of $86,314.

All other groups were paid less than the median. Black employees received a median salary of $76,423; Latinx $73,441; and multiracial persons $67,603. The city’s sole Native American employee received a salary of $25,945.

Certain minority groups were also underrepresented. Asians, Latinx and multiracial persons made up a smaller percentage of employees than they do in Evanston as a whole, according to demographic estimates from the 2017 American Community Survey. The city does not exclusively employ Evanston residents.

Similar trends are apparent among Evanston resident-employees, who comprise 20.3 percent of the city’s workforce.

Higher-paying jobs among residents overwhelmingly belong to white citizens, with 41 of the 50 highest incomes of resident-employees –82 percent– attributed to that group. By comparison, only 57.3 percent of overall resident-employees are white, with whites comprising only half of resident-employees’ 50 lowest paying salaries, which range from $65,607.52 to $3,153.60.

City documents do not state the length of employment within a given year; at least four individuals included in this cohort appear to have left or joined the city partway through the year.

Resident-employees, over a third of whom identify as black, claim a smaller income than the median, at only $72,619.

Human resources division manager Jennifer Lin said she had not seen the payroll data in question, but made several suggestions as to the cause behind The Daily’s findings.

Lin said the income and representation of white males — the city employs a slightly higher proportion of whites than comprise Evanston’s population — on the city’s payroll reflected broader trends in municipal government.

“The data might show that the trends are white males, but I think a lot of that is an effect of local government, it’s an effect of demographics across the country as far as local government is concerned,” Lin said. “We can try to hire more women, we can try to hire more people of color, but sometimes it’s just not there.”

Regarding Evanston resident-employees, Lin said the city hires considerably more Evanston residents in part-time or seasonal jobs, which aren’t represented in the data provided.

She also listed several apprenticeships and support programs designed to corral Evanston residents into starting careers in the city’s police, fire and public works departments, but said that the city does not prefer or require residency status for employment, unlike Chicago or Cook County, and that it would reduce the number of qualified applicants.

“If you had two equally-qualified employees, there might be a preference to hire the Evanston resident,” Lin said. “But at the end of the day, when we are hiring for these high-level positions, we’re simply responding to the people who apply to the job.”

Dr. Patricia Efiom, the city’s chief equity officer, declined to comment on the data but said this information was important for improving equity efforts within city government.

“As we are getting into being serious about equity work and operationalizing equity, it would be important for us to have this information to see where we have to address some barriers,” she said.

Jane Grover, chair of the Equity and Empowerment Commision, declined to comment on behalf of the commision and said the issue had not previously been brought to the commission’s attention.

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Twitter: @maybejoshirvine

A previous version of this story misstated the median salary of Asian employees. The Daily regrets this error.