Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Knowing the Research: Racism in the Job Market

Hello everyone! So we are in our third week of tutoring here at Cabrini Connections this week and everything is running very smoothly! Our clubs are going well, we're getting a lot of student interest in our new college-prep curriculum and dozens of kids have signed up for our 5 scheduled college visits. Since our program is running so well, I thought I'd indulge and write a post about some recent research I read about discrimination in the job market. Since it's difficult enough to get a decent job these days, it's important to realize the unique disadvantages that African-American applicants face, particularly low-income applicants such as our students who already suffer a lack of resources and flexibility afforded to other job-seekers.

In the last 15 years or so, much research has tried to investigate the types of discrimination that job applicants of color face (particularly Blacks and Latinos). Arguments have been made claiming that the real reason why applicants of color are not offered jobs at a rate consistent with white applicants is the difference in skill and experience between the candidates (Farkas and Vicknair 1996; Neal and Johnson 1996). These studies also argue that racial inequality in wages is largely explained by differences in cognitive skill. However, a recent study by Pager, Western and Bonikowski of Princeton University demonstrated that in fact there is a significant racial preference for white candidates among hundreds of New York City employers when confronted with otherwise identical White, Latino and Black applicants.

In this study, Black, Latino and White men were recruited and then matched on age, height, verbal skills, interactional styles and physical attractiveness, were trained together and given fictitious resumes indicating identical educational accomplishment, work experience and neighborhood of residence. These so-called "testers" then presented themselves at a series of randomly selected job interviews as high school graduates with consistent work experience in entry-level jobs in order to see which applicants were more likely to be called-back for another interview and/or hired. Great care was made to ensure that every possible difference was controlled between the applicants in each set.

After the each matched set of Black, Latino and White applicants interviewed individually at 171 NYC employers, their call-backs were tallied up. Remarkably, the White applicant in each group received callbacks 31% of the time, more than the 25% callback rate of the Latino applicants and significantly more than the 15% callback rate of the Black applicants. Remember, these applicants were matched so that they were identical in every way, except their race... yet Black applicants were half as likely to get a job offer than White applicants! This suggests that a Black applicant would have to look twice as long for a job than an equally qualified White applicant!

Even more shocking than this was the second part of the experiment, where matched Black and Latino applicants applied for the same set of jobs as an equally qualified White applicant... except the White applicants were instructed to reveal that they had just been released from an 18 month prison stay for a drug felony (cocaine possession with intent to distribute). Amazingly, these white applicants with a criminal record got callbacks from 17% of the 171 employers, compared to 13% of employers for otherwise identical Black applicants with no criminal record!!

The results of this study, which are consistent with earlier work ( summarized in Heckman and Siegelman 1993) show that we are most certainly not yet living in what some social commentators are calling a "postracial" society. Clearly race continues to play a large role in the hiring practices of many employers, which puts qualified African-American applicants at a significant disadvantage compared to Whites and even Latinos. For this reason, we here at Cabrini Connections are committed to offering our students, who are overwhelmingly African-American, the resources they need to help surmount the additional challenges that Black youth face growing up in poverty. By getting these youth involved in one-on-one relationships with a dedicated mentor, it is our hope that our youth can benefit from access to their mentors' networks, which will give them a leg up in the quest for employment, college admission and future success in their chosen careers. We hope that these mentors can connect their mentees with jobs and pull them towards careers that they might otherwise be impeded from seeking.

It is a sad fact that we still have to deal with racism in today's society. However, rather than sweep it under the rug and ignore it's consequences, allowing it to fester and grow, studies like this one confront its effects head on, forcing us to address it's existence and actively combat it, knowing that, to quote Malcolm X, "all human beings are respected as such, regardless of their color".


Farkas, George. and K. Vicknair. 1996. “Appropriate Tests of Racial Wage
Discrimination Require Controls for Cognitive Skill: omment on Cancio, Evans,
and Maume.” American Sociological Review 61:557-60.

Heckman, James and Peter Siegelman. 1993. “The Urban Institute Audit Studies: Their Methods and Findings.” Pp. 187-258 in Clear and Convincing Evidence: Measurement of Discrimination in America, edited by Michael Fix and Raymond Struyk. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Neal, Derek, and William Johnson. 1996. “The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White
Wage Differences.” Journal of Political Economy 104:869-895.

Pagar, D., Western, B., Bonikowski, B. (2006) Race at Work: Realities of Race and Criminal Record in the New York City Job Market. Report prepared for the 50th Anniversary of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

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