A Tougher Road to Employment

On Christmas Day, the New York Times ran a great story on the “tougher road to employment” for black recent college graduates. The piece featured research by my colleague Janelle Jones and me, which originally appeared as a CEPR report (pdf) back in May.

Of course, I liked that the piece used our numbers (in 2013, the unemployment rate for black recent college graduates was more than double the unemployment rate for white recent grads, for example), but I also liked the implicit framing of the numbers. Black college graduates are a group that have “done everything right” –finished high school, finished college, entered the labor market– and yet are much more likely than their white counterparts to be unemployed or to be in a job that doesn’t require a college degree. (And, yes, our numbers show that this also holds true for black graduates with degrees in STEM –science, technology, engineering, and math.)

For me, the most insightful part of the story were the paragraphs focusing on remarks by Duke economist, Sandy Darity:

“I would never say to anyone they shouldn’t get a college education,” said William A. Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University. “There’s no doubt that having a college education improves the relative situation of any black American compared with any other black American.”

“But it does not significantly reduce racial disparity,” he added. “We’ve got to do something else to really have an effect on that.”

In fact, the unemployment rate in 2013 was lower among whites who never finished high school (9.7 percent) than it was for blacks with some college education (10.5 percent).

Black graduates are suffering from a version of last hired, first fired, Mr. Darity said. The effects of discrimination are blunted when the work force is expanding, but in harder times minorities are much more vulnerable, he said.

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