Discrimination for Blacks with Criminal Records

Mike Muller, Gotham Gazette, May 14, 2009

{snip} According to a recent article published in the journal the Annals of the American Academy, just getting a call back from prospective employers in New York City can be twice as hard for blacks with a criminal record than for their white counterparts. Only 10 percent of black ex-offenders in the study received a callback after dropping off an application, while 22 percent of their white counterparts got one. The difference in callbacks between those without records was much smaller, where 25 percent of blacks did compared 31 percent for whites.

Just over half of inmates in New York prisons are black.

The report–written by Devah Pager, an associate professor at Princeton, Bruce Western, a professor at Harvard, and Naomi Sugie, a PhD student at Princeton–also stresses the importance of building a personal rapport in getting a job. They found that personal contact with a prospective employer improved the chances by 15 percent of those with criminal records in getting a callback or interview.

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To get the results of this test, they sent out trained job seekers with fake criminal records to 250 actual job listings. The applicants were sent in pairs of the same race, all males aged 22 to 26 and with a height of around 6-feet tall. Each were supplied with the same history–high school only, steady unskilled employment–and were paired to match similar verbal skills and even physical attractiveness. But one was told to say he was recently released from prison, having been incarcerated for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The jobs they sought out were restaurant positions, telemarketing, retail work and such, all found through the major papers and on Craigslist.

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[Editor’s Note: “Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records,” by Devah Pager, et al., can be read or downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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