Many signs suggest that the economy is on the mend—jobless rates are diminishing, new home construction is increasing, and Americans feel more optimistic than they have in recent years that brighter times are on the horizon. However, in the midst of this positivity, some disturbing trends remain.
A recent article from the Washington Post notes that while unemployment is declining, the black jobless rate stubbornly remains high, at twice the rate of whites. The article notes that while the white unemployment rate is at 6.8%, black unemployment is at a disturbing 13.2%.
The piece goes on to note factors like discrimination, lack of social networks, and educational disparities as key drivers of this gap. The report also concludes that blacks are underrepresented in the fields that are making a recovery (manufacturing, professional services), and tend to be unemployed for longer periods of time than their white counterparts.
Yet – despite these stark disparities – many whites who are polled insist that blacks have equal or even superior access to occupational opportunities and that race no longer plays a role in employment outcomes.
The findings in this article likely come as no surprise to sociologists and others who study race and work. Sociologist Vincent Roscigno has noted the pernicious effects that discrimination has had on black workers in public sector jobs, and Deirdre Royster (quoted in the Post article) has published widely cited research documenting that among men in vocational programs, whites tend to conserve networks and recommendations among themselves, thus restricting black men’s access to good paying, stable jobs.
Additionally, researchers like Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Joe Feagin have long observed that whites tend to be unaware of the well-documented, longstanding patterns of racial discrimination in employment and labor markets, as well as in other sectors of society.
Some policy analysts have suggestions for ways to reignite employment and reduce these trends for black workers. Algernon Austin at the Economic Policy Institute notes that programs like affirmative action now lack broad public support. However, depending on the ways in which it is enacted, affirmative action could potentially help reduce the high rates of black unemployment. Another idea is to target employment initiatives in urban areas with high rates of joblessness (cities like Newark, New Jersey or Detroit, Michigan).
Without concentrated, intentional effort, however, these disturbing trends of high black unemployment are likely to continue.