Are You Vulnerable to Job Discrimination?

Multi-racial business team sitting around an office boardroom

By Tammy Ghalden

From all of the research I have read, my answer to the above question would be “yes.” However, there might be some explanations I will get to later on in this article.

I have argued with several people online that Affirmative Action has had a minimal, negative effect on white males and has not been enough to correct for discrimination against minorities, especially black people. Studies have shown that white females have benefited the most from Affirmative Action.

First of all, Affirmative Action is not a quota system. In most situations, race quotas are illegal. It is a system that requires employers to make additional efforts to recruit underrepresented groups in their organization in proportion to the demographic make-up of the local job market. Second of all, Affirmative Action does not require employers to hire underqualified applicants. What it requires is that, when you have two equally qualified applicants, the applicant from the underrepresented group should be hired. If an organization has been proven to have a history of discrimination or lack of effort in recruiting underrepresented groups, then a judge may force that organization to adopt a quota. This has happened to historically black colleges, so Affirmative Action applies to all. If you know a white male or a parent of a white male who is complaining about the lack of race/gender-based scholarships for white males, tell that person that several HBCUs will be more than happy to give him a full-ride as long as his grades aren’t too low. Additionally, there are scholarships specifically for people of Italian, Irish, German, and probably every other group of European descendants.

I know of one online character who insists that African Americans can major in anything and still get a good paying job because of Affirmative Action. According to him, everyone else has to focus on training in the most marketable fields. His ignorant assumption is false. Black college graduates are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed than white college graduates. My theory for this phenomenon was that black college students major in less marketable fields (this is generally true) and that employers are discriminating against black applicants. To my surprise, the first part of my theory is not all that true, but the second part is. While black students do tend to major in less marketable fields, even when they do major in fields with a shortage of skilled workers, they are still more likely to be unemployed and underemployed than other college graduates.

Even for those who enter the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, areas where grads are the most needed and paid the highest, African-Americans still have a 10 percent unemployment rate and a 32 percent underemployment rate.

This article further goes on to say that:

Recent black college grads ages 22 to 27 have an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, more than double the 5.6 percent unemployed among all college grads in that demographic and almost a threefold increase from the 2007 level of 4.6 percent, before the Great Recession took its toll on the U.S. economy. More than half of black graduates, 55.9 percent, are underemployed.

If you don’t trust Al Jazeera, the article links to the study conducted by the Center for Economic Policy and Development.

This is not surprising to me, but it might be surprising to others. There is not a consensus in the research literature that there is actually a shortage in the STEM fields.

So, on to my next theory: discrimination. Name discrimination is real. No, you do not need to have a crazy name to be discriminated against. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Name discrimination is wrong and should not be defended in any case. Every applicant should be judged by his or her qualifications and performance in the interview, not by something as superficial as a name chosen by his or her parents. The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted an experiment using names that are common among African Americans and white people. They did not have to use names like “Darealest” or “Airwrecka” to show that employers will discriminate against African American names. The simple truth is that employers are using the names to predict the person’s race. If they are trying to predict the person’s social background, they aren’t doing it right.

But, more interestingly for us, there is substantial between-name heterogeneity in social background. African American babies named Kenya or Jamal are aliated with much higher mothers’ education than African American babies named Latonya or Leroy. Conversely, White babies named Carrie or Neil have lower social background than those named Emily or Georey. This allows for a direct test of the social background hypothesis within our sample: are names associated with a worse social background discriminated against more? In the last row in each gender-race group, we report the rank-order correlation between callback rates and mother’s education. The social background hypothesis predicts a positive correlation. Yet, for all four categories, we find the exact opposite. The p-values indicate that we cannot reject independence at standard significance levels except in the case of African American males where we can almost reject it at the 10 percent level. In summary, this test suggests little evidence that social background drives the extent of discrimination.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that no matter how common, normal, and classy you think your name is, if your name is commonly known as being more popular among African Americans than white people, then you are probably going to have to send out 50% more resumes/applications to get the same number of callbacks as a person with a “white-sounding” name.

I could only come up with two other reasons why recent, black, college graduates are more likely to be underemployed or unemployed than other recent graduates. It could be that black people are more likely to live and stay in depressed labor markets such as Detroit. Another possible explanation is that black students are more likely to attend colleges that are not targeted by employers for recruitment. African Americans are overrepresented at for-profit colleges and probably more likely to attend low-ranked, non-profit schools.

For-profit colleges tend to have poor reputations. I advise everyone to avoid for-profit colleges at all costs. With so many state universities and non-profit, private colleges offering online degree programs, there is almost no excuse for attending a for-profit college. However, keep in mind that Apple and Google are less likely to recruit from Podunk State University than MIT.

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