The Job Market Discriminates Against Black College Grads

Members of the graduation class of 2013 stand during the commencement ceremony before US President Barack Obama delivers the
Members of the graduation class of 2013 stand during the commencement ceremony before US President Barack Obama delivers the key address at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

While it's tough out there for all recent college grads, a new study finds that African-Americans face a particularly difficult situation when it comes to finding a job after school.

The 2013 unemployment rate for recent college grads who are black was almost twice that of recent college grads overall, according to report released Tuesday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank that studies inequality and other economic issues. As the chart below from CEPR shows, that gap has widened during the recovery.

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Downturns are typically harder on young workers than on their older counterparts, and the black jobless rate has been consistently almost double the white jobless rate for the past 60 years. Combine these two factors, and you get a job market that’s particularly hostile to young black Americans leaving college.

A large part of this problem is job market discrimination. One study found that job applicants with "black sounding" names (researchers gave Lakisha Washington and Jamal Jones as examples) were less likely to get called back for an interview than their counterparts with the same qualifications who had "white sounding" names (like Emily Walsh or Greg Baker). And some researchers have suggested that drug testing would improve the prospects of black job-seekers because hiring managers are more likely to assume they’ve used drugs and are less likely to discriminate when presented with actual evidence to the contrary.

Black men also tend to be underrepresented in management and professional occupations and over-represented in low-wage work. In 2011, researchers found that a $10,000 increase in the average annual income of an occupation translated into a 7 percentage point drop in the share of black men doing that job.


Experts note that a person starting out at a disadvantage straight out of college will face the economic consequences over a lifetime. That's because as Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, puts it, “earnings over the course of a career depend critically on where a person begins.” If the trend of black college grads facing significantly heightened unemployment rates persists, it's certainly not going to do anything to help the country's already-wide racial wealth gap.