Racial Employment Gap Persists, Despite Increasing Number of Degrees

Posted By Eliana Osborn on January 18, 2016 at 9:27 am
Racial Employment Gap Persists, Despite Increasing Number of Degrees

Unemployment is down to pre-recession levels, finally, but the numbers are vastly different for whites and non-whites.  Despite increases in minority college attendance and graduation, workers at all levels find employment disparities.

A recent report from Georgetown noted improvement in levels of underemployment—people working in part-time jobs when they want full-time.  And the overall unemployment stat for college grads is near 3%.  When you take a closer look at the numbers, breaking them down by race, things don’t look as promising.

The Economic Policy Institute examines the black-white employment trends.  “Over the last 12 months, the average unemployment rate for black college graduates has been 4.1 percent—nearly two times the average unemployment rate for white college graduates (2.4 percent) and equivalent to the unemployment rate of whites with an associate’s degree or who have not completed college (4.0 percent).”  Essentially, black workers have to get more education to make the same amount of money as less qualified white employees.

While these numbers are disturbing, the employment gap widens significantly when black and white workers without a high school diploma are compared.  At that level, white unemployment is 6.9% and 16.6% for blacks.  Considered in this light, increased education does bring rates closer for both racial groups.

Jillian B. White of The Atlantic points out some reasons for the continuing employment inequalities: different pre-college educational experiences, taking longer to graduate, etc.  “But the numbers show that even when blacks are successful in attending and completing college, they’re still less likely to be gainfully employed than their white peers, hinting that less education isn’t the entire problem, and that attempts to boost educational attainment figures among blacks won’t be the entire solution.”

Many colleges are focusing on career advisement, especially for minority students, attempting to increase employment following graduation.  The importance of networking and social connections has long been emphasized for first generation college students in recognition of how crucial these factors are for finding jobs.  Mentorship opportunities for such students are valuable for keeping them in school and helping them be successful later.  Programs like this may be a tool to rectify some of the employment imbalance seen for black degree holders as well.

A 2014 policy brief from the Young Invincibles focuses on education as the means of eliminating the race gap in employment.  The EPI research shows us that education is not enough to do the job.  Wage discrepancies also persist along racial lines.  Institutions of higher education can do more to include all students, but the larger society has work to do on the career front as well.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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