Worrying Statistics

From the  Economic Policy Institute .

Fifteen months into a deep recession, college-educated white workers still had a relatively low unemployment rate of 3.8% in March of this year. The same could not be said for African Americans with four-year degrees. The March 2009 unemployment rate for college-educated blacks was 7.2%—almost twice as high as the white rate—and up 4.5 percentage points from March 2007, before the start of the current recession (see chart). Hispanics and Asian Americans with college degrees were in between, both with March 2009 unemployment rates of 5%.

There is something more going on here.

This issue is not solely about individuals getting an education, it is about race and prejudice. It is easy to assume that when the playing field is level then everyone has a fair shot, but the reality is the playing field is never level (at least not in this day and age). Individuals have preferences and “likeness” helps seekers secure jobs. Often it is hard to see the same core values if they are displayed in a way different than you display them (i.e. respect containing a verbal affirmation – a Euro-American/Western European value –  compared to respect meaning quiet dedication – an east Asian value). When that happens candidates who are more than qualified don’t make the cut simply because many are not versed enough to see a skill presented in a way different that what is “normal”

I don’t think that this racial discrepancy is because anyone is overtly racist – though some people still are – but more because many white people tend to think of themselves as “color-blind” and thus ignore the bias that naturally comes with their culture and relationships. Racial prejudice often happens when we personally and socially shirk the responsibility of multiculturalism.

  1. Wow, that discrepancy is amazing and troubling. It seems that the idea that all you have to do is work hard, get that degree and you’ll be set is not true. I wonder how much of this is also influenced by class background – one thing I noticed with my more privileged friends is that they usually had a much larger, more influential network and that this beginning advantage seems to snowball.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard, just that they had the opportunity to get the kinds of work with the kinds of people that could give them a huge boost and/or safety net in the future.

    I think you’re right by this not being caused by overt racism. There really is a need to educate people about their hidden biases and tendencies. This is always a difficult road to tread because people tend to become extremely defensive when the topic turns to racism, sexism, classicism, etc.

  2. Hmm interesting statistics. The trends could perhaps be explained through the ideas developed in social psychology regarding perception, stereotypes and attributions. Conversely I guess that these results may not necessarily reflect racial prejudices, there may be other underlying factors.

  3. Thanks for the responses.

    Tracy, network is a huge factor. I attended a private liberal arts college for my undergraduate degree. It was incredible to see how familial connections to the institution – specifically because many students came from wealthy families – not only led to opportunities within the college, but also for internships and jobs. I have now noticed the peripheral benefits I have received because I now connected to the network.

    Abolishtronto, I do believe that there is some room for perception of stereotypes, worth etc. play into the experience of minorities going into the working world. Nothing is do so one variable. However, I think the discrepancy, especially between Latinos and African-Americans and Whites, suggests there is a possibility that attributes of homophily, triablism/kinship, likeness, etc are being displayed as well.

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