Written By: Sope Aluko
Date: September 2016
Over the last eight years, one of President Obama’s grandest accomplishments was improving the nation’s unemployment rate, touting a 5.0 percent rate, three percent lower than when he first took office in 2008, after the start of the “Great Recession”, which spanned from 2007-2013, taking place in history books as the second worst economic drought since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In addition, the job market has doubled since the beginning of the Obama Administration. The number of job openings was able to reach 5.8 million in July 2015, the greatest amount since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking numbers in 2001, and an astounding 5,445,000 by the end of February 2016, a 97 percent increase from January 2009.
While these numbers may sound promising for the American population as a whole, there is one special group that has suffered consistently, notwithstanding the presidential administration at the helm nor the physical state of the economy: Black undergraduate and graduate school graduates.
According to a May 2014 study titled, “A College Degree Is No Guarantee” researchers Janelle Jones and John Schmitt of the Center For Economic and Policy Research, data showed that the unemployment rate for Black graduates are more than twice that of their White counterparts, regardless of the educational level reached. The study, which examines black graduates that are 22-29 years old, notes that while this inequality historically been the case, Black grads have it worse today than Whites ever did, immediately following the Great Recession. From 2007 to 2013, the unemployment rate for Black graduates tripled, skyrocketing from 4.6 percent to 12.4 percent, while the highest it was for Whites during the same time period was 9.0 percent. This is lower than the 9.4 percent for Blacks that it stands at now. For those who had a job in 2013 at the end of the Recession, 56 percent reported being underemployed (working a job where a degree is not necessary) whereas before the Recession, only 45 percent reported underemployment. To add insult to injury, younger Black students aren’t faring any better. For Black students 17-20 years old with only a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 28.4 percent, compared to the 25.9 that White high school graduates experienced at the peak recovery period of the recession.
This “race penalty”, as many researchers have called the struggle that Black grads have historically faced, the level of education received in relation to their White counterparts isn’t the only discrimination that has a hand in keeping Black grads unemployed. According to a September 2004 field study titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakeisha and Jamal?” conducted by National Bureau of Economic Research, it was found that resumes belonging to individuals with White names received 50 percent more interview callbacks than those with Black, or otherwise ethnic, names. At the conclusion of their experiment, researchers Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan simply state, “We find little evidence that our results are driven by employers inferring something other than race, such as social class, from the names. These results suggest that racial discrimination is still a prominent feature of the labor market.” Another shocking study, done by Arizona State University researchers from 2011-2014, showed that Black and Hispanic men with criminal records, were determined to be less likely to get a positive response from employers, compared to White men with criminal records.White men with records were found to be more likely to get a favorable response than a Black man that had a clean record.
Despite the discouraging numbers and factors presented here, and the others that have come against African Americans in all facets of life, personal, professional that we see daily on the news, it is important to remain persistent and headstrong in pursuing the goal because it is the only way to make it to the top!
Here's what we're doing to combat the problem.