There's Some Really Bad News for Black College Graduates


Bad news, black graduates: The American Dream might have to wait.

A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research reveals a troubling statistic: Recent black college grads face unemployment rates more than double those of their peers, and the gap has been widening since the recession.

Image Credit: CEPR

With a staggering 12.4% unemployment rate, the plight of black grads aged 22-27 dwarfs the overall grad average of 5.6% for the same age group. What's more, the black rate has nearly tripled since 2007, when it stood at 4.6%.

The study also calculates "underemployment," defined as "working in an occupation that typically does not require a four-year college degree." Once again, black grads come out on top — or rather, bottom — with a rate of 55.9%.

Image Credit: CEPR

What's going on? The Huffington Post suggests that economic downturns have always been harder on young workers than their older counterparts. This is especially apparent today, with skyrocketing tuition costs and a $1.1 trillion student debt crisis on top of a hobbled economy and fewer job opportunities.

But black grads face a unique set of challenges. The overall black unemployment rate has consistently been twice that of whites for the past 60 years, with even wider gaps when jobs that disproportionately employ black workers disappear.

Image Credit: Pew Research Center

However: The study suggests another factor in this case: racial discrimination.

It's no secret that racist hiring practices have plagued black job applicants for years. A 2003 "audit study" by Devah Pager showed that black prospective employees in Milwaukee were less than half as likely as similarly qualified whites to receive a callback from potential employers.

In the same study, white applicants with criminal records were more likely to receive callbacks than similarly qualified black applicants with no record. A 2009 study centered in New York City delivered the same result.

Related findings from 2003 revealed a bias against applicants with names that "sounded black," as determined by an analysis of recent census records. In Boston and Chicago specifically, applicants with "white-sounding" names received 50% more callbacks than those with "black-sounding" names.

Seriously. This confluence of factors has resulted in a troubling pattern for recent black college grads. What's more, their negative impact holds steady for professions across the board. In more than half of the 13 major job categories, black grads lucky enough to find a job were more likely to work somewhere that did not require a four-year degree than somewhere that did.

Image Credit: CEPR

Grads in the normally in-demand STEM fields fare only slightly better.

Perhaps scariest of all, the long-term impact of this problem remains to be seen. It could prove devastating, as poor job prospects only exacerbate the already persistent racial wealth gap between blacks and whites. Yet while the study concludes that discrimination patterns that informed labor markets before the recession still hold true, now there's a twist:

They're compounded by fallout from a major economic crisis. And once again, black people are being hit the hardest, even if they've graduated college.