30 June 2016
30 June 2016,
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Racial Employment Gaps

We have all become accustomed to hearing how sluggish the most recent economic recovery has been. While unemployment rates have declined significantly from the beginning of the recession, there are still serious racial employment gaps which remain stubborn to deal with.

Identifying Employment Disparities

Disparities in youth employment rates have plagued the United States for years. Oftentimes, local legislatures enact programs to help increase youth employment during the summer months. Even when these programs are put into place, disparities continue.  This is not something new; even though the recession of 2008 has slowly improved the overall job market, the disparities in employment rates among youth have continued to show there are fewer black youth employed than other youth groups.

This disparity does not improve with age or educational attainment either. Unfortunately, black males overall tend to have lower levels of employment than their white or Asian counterparts and in many cases, Hispanics are also adversely impacted by low employment rates. A comparison of all persons in the workplace shows the following statistics for 2015:

  • White: 4.4 percent unemployment
  • Hispanic: 6.3 percent unemployment
  • African American 9.2 percent unemployment

Education and Employment Disparities

In 2012, the Center for American Progress conducted a study of all unemployment data and broke down those who were unemployed or underemployed by race and by education. Even when African American males had the same education levels as white counterparts, their employment rates were nearly double digits higher than among whites. The recession of 2008 seemed to exacerbate this problem and one reason for this may be the fact employers lay off the most recent hires first leaving African American men at a disadvantage.

Other Structural Barriers to Employment

There may be other reasons for disparities between white and African American workers which may be harder to solve. According to a paper issued by the Economic Policy Institute in 2011, more African American men work in manufacturing jobs and public service jobs.  Since manufacturing jobs still remain sluggish, it stands to reason there is a higher level of unemployment among those workers. Public sector jobs have been cut on a regular basis at all level of government and oftentimes these workers are the hardest to place into new jobs. Unfortunately, this paper also points out some other frightening statistics; mainly pointing out that discrimination, however unintentional, may also play a role.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The basis of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, was to ensure there would be no hiring disparities among men, women and people of color. This was to “even the playing field”. However, study after study has shown that in some cases, race plays a significant role in what employment opportunities are available. In fact, after five decades, we still see there are fields where blacks are seriously under-represented in the workplace. In some cases, employers claim a lack of skills to explain the disparity but some studies suggest this cannot be the only explanation.

Metropolitan Areas Show Significant Disparities

Employment rates in metropolitan areas demonstrated in a chart provided by Brookings Institute shows there are serious disparities in metropolitan areas. During 2014, the difference between employment rates among white and African Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 were as much as 10 percent. Even when youth unemployment decreases dramatically, there are still significant gaps between employment for white and African American youth.

Discrimination May Play a Role

Unfortunately, nearly everyone has biases and it is nearly impossible to overcome bias. However, as an employer, hiring or refusing to hire someone on the basis of their race is a strictly prohibited practice. Even when an employer is not consciously making a decision to not hire or promote someone because of their race, they may still be violating the spirit of the law pertaining to racial discrimination.

Most employers are not deliberately excluding African Americans in the hiring process nor are their practices discriminatory when promoting or providing benefits in the workplace. However, it is still important to be aware of these disparities and ensure that companies are in full compliance with the law to ensure they are not facing charges of discrimination.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

The Wood Law Office, LLC helps employers with a variety of services helping them be in compliance with the law. We can help with training including anti-discrimination training and help with conducting policy reviews. We also represent employees who believe they have been victims of racial discrimination. Contact our offices today to set up a consultation.

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