2:1 Unemployment

There have been many steps to help eradicate racial discrimination in America. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough progress for racial equality in the workforce because it still remains prevalent. African Americans, on average, are two times more likely to be unemployed when compared to a white worker. Labor force participation rates remain close as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that participation rates between white men and women and African American men and women are relatively close, at 64% and 61% respectively. The racial inequality lies in the rate of employment and job finding abilities.

The BLS Reports in 2013 the annual unemployment average was 7.4%, white unemployment was at 6.5% and African Americans were at 13.1% unemployment. Asian workers had the lowest unemployment at 5.2% on average. During the Great Recession, African Americans saw the largest increase in unemployment reaching approximately 16% and Hispanics were second largest at around 12%. Ironically, this was actually the smallest gap for racial unemployment because white unemployment also rose quickly; the African American jobless rate was “only” 1.67 times larger. The largest unemployment gap was in the late 1980’s when manufacturing sectors who had hired a majority of African American workers closed. The gap during this period was as high as 2.77 times that of white unemployment.

Many labor economists attempt to define the reasoning behind this racial inequality in the workforce. Even African Americans with the same education level as white workers are less likely to be employed. William Darity, a Duke University public policy expert explains that “I don’t know if there’s anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at 2 to 1…it’s a statistical regularity that we don’t have an explanation for.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/)

One major consideration for this inequality should be black incarceration rates. The BLS doesn’t include prison populations in the official unemployment statistics. Not including African Americans who are incarcerated reduces the number of blacks able to work which subsequently will lower the black jobless rate. A Harvard sociologist named Devah Pager stumbled upon alarming data while researching the severity of incarceration on job finding. She used two white workers and two black workers with identical resumes, one of each race had a criminal record. The white applicant with no criminal record had a 34% callback rate and the rate for the white worker with a criminal record dropped to 17%. However, the callback rate for the African American worker with no criminal record was only 14% and 5% for the black worker with a criminal record. The data was appalling; a white applicant with a criminal record would still receive more callbacks than a black worker with no criminal record. (http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/pager/files/pager_ajs.pdf)

Even in an improving economy, African Americans are seeing minimal gains. African Americans continue to be two times more likely to be unemployed when compared to white workers.Pinpointing the reasoning for this inequality is difficult. There are many factors that play a role in the inequality of labor but a real problem arises when joblessness will have lasting effects on black workers and their long run economic mobility.


Nicole Lorinsky

2 thoughts on “2:1 Unemployment

  1. jonahchoe

    I’m glad you point out that it is hard to pinpoint exactly why this ratio is 2:1. However, what we can say is that one’s successes and failures depends not on their ability but to where and to whom they’re born. The broken political, social, financial, and media systems are truly to blame and something must be done about it.

  2. Victor Matheson

    I like the use of the 2:1 idea. It is an easy way to conceptualize the employment problems facing African Americans in the US. Some of the difference has to do with educational attainment, but as in other posts on the blog focusing on male/female employment and wages, one can look at unemployment rates by educational level, and blacks still have higher unemployment rates when education is accounted for.


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