College Degrees Won’t Shield Blacks from Unemployment

Jean McGianni Celestin, The Root, March 5, 2011

For years, Americans have been told that going to college was the best protection against unemployment. That hasn’t been the case for African Americans during the Great Recession, with a jobless rate nearly double that of their white counterparts. And experts say the gap could widen in the slow recovery.

Black Americans have long suffered the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic group in the country, and this recession has only exacerbated a long-standing divergence.

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At the end of 2010, black Americans, 25 years old and older, with a college education had an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, while the rate for white college graduates was 4.2 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Other minority groups, such as Asian college graduates and Hispanics, hover a shade over 5.5 percent, while the rate for blacks was expected to continue climbing.

Cary Fraser, a professor of labor and industrial relations at Penn State University, believes that several factors contribute to high unemployment in the black community.

First, as corporations continue to relocate thousands of jobs to lower-cost markets in more rural areas, many of the opportunities that were once available to black workers in metropolitan centers are now nonexistent.

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The second factor in high joblessness among blacks is what Fraser describes as “class-origin distinction.” He says that a large number of black professionals are first-generation college graduates who don’t have the same kinds of networks as an earlier generation of African Americans. “They’re just not as savvy and as prepared for the work force when they leave college as the older generation was.”

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Fraser also believes that internal politics play a considerable role in higher black unemployment rates, saying that some companies become less inclined to hire minorities once their respective diversity-hiring goals have been met.

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Lurie Daniel-Favors, a New York-based civil rights and consumer-debt attorney, says that this damaging cycle has been going on for a while, even before the current labor crisis. Black Americans have always been in a recession when it comes to jobs, and she points to a structural and systematic institutionalized racism as the primary driver.

“Blacks have always been the last hired and the first fired,” she says. “Countless studies have shown that when all other things are equal, if two résumés have equal qualifications and the only difference is the ethnicity of the names of the candidates, potential employers will go with the name that sounds the most European–or the least ethnic.”

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