Recession Exacerbates Race Gap

Sudeep Reddy, Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2010

The recession is showing that even a college degree isn’t enough to close the stubborn employment gap between white and black Americans.

In April, the nationwide jobless rate for white college graduates, ages 25 and older, stood at 4%, according to the Labor Department. The rate for college graduates in the same age bracket who identify themselves as black or African-American was 7.4%.

And that gap–3.4 percentage points–has widened since the recession started in December 2007, when the comparable figure was 0.9 percentage point.

To be sure, the deep recession has shown more clearly than ever the value of education for all races and age groups. Joblessness for Americans without high-school diplomas was roughly triple the rate for those with college degrees and topped 15% in many months. That difference holds among African-Americans; those without high-school diplomas have seen unemployment top 20% during the downturn.

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The problem goes beyond simply having a job: A wage gap between black and white college graduates, after diminishing to almost zero by the late 1970s, picked up in the 1980s and remains today.

Drawing broad conclusions is difficult, but one possible explanation is that racial discrimination remains a force in the job market, even if more subtle than before. Economists and other experts who have studied the divide also point to a long list of other potential causes.

Black college graduates on average are younger, with less experience, than white graduates. {snip}

Also, on average, white Americans tend to have a higher share of college majors built around science and technology–fields more resistant to layoffs. {snip}

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