While the economy has rebounded since the Great Recession of 2008, the job market remains iffy for young African Americans with college degrees. That’s according to a new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which finds that 12.4 percent of recent black grads (aged 22 to 27) are unemployed. That’s more than double the number for all recent grads, which stands at 5.6 percent.
“We absolutely aren’t trying to discourage people from going to college,” said John Schmitt, the study’s co-author, according to The National Journal. “College degrees do have value. But what we are trying to show here is that this is not about individuals, or individual effort. There is simply overwhelming evidence that discrimination remains a major feature of the labor market.”
The numbers are striking, and even in high-demand fields like engineering, black grads are lagging behind. Between 2012 and 2013, the National Journal reports, 11 percent of blacks with engineering degrees are unemployed, compared to 6 percent of all engineering grads. The figures are similar for math- and computer-related majors, and if you factor in underemployment — instances of individuals working in jobs that don’t require four-year degrees — things look even bleaker. Since 2007, the number of underemployed black college grads has skyrocketed to 56 percent, relative to 45 percent for the general population.
As Janell Ross writes for the National Journal, unemployment in the years immediately following college can prove especially daunting, since it’s a time of acquiring skills and finding your footing in the job world.
“During the first five years after school, people try on, discard and pick up better-fitting careers, develop key skills, typically make major income gains, and begin to plug into the professional networks that provide training, contacts, and new job opportunities in the future,” Ross writes.
While the findings are distressing, they’re sadly not totally unexpected. As Ross reports, unemployment rates for blacks have, for the last 50 years, been twice as high as those for whites.
“This study, its findings, as terrible as they are, honestly should not come as a shock to anyone who is willing to face the truth about employment and unemployment in the United States,” said Rutgers University professor Nancy DiTomaso.
In her 2013 book “The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism,” DiTomaso posits that persistent inequality in the job market isn’t only the result of racism or purposeful exclusion. In the process of writing the book, she interviewed 243 individuals, and she found that 70 percent of the jobs held by white subjects over the course of their live times were the result of personal networks — friends, neighbors, family members, etc. — that might not be open to blacks.
“I think it’s high time that we really started to look closely not just at the ways that the labor market is biased against blacks but the ways in which it is biased in favor of whites,” DiTomaso told the National Journal.