COMMENTARY
8:29 am
Mon June 9, 2014

Black College Grads Still Face Bias In Job Market

Avielle D. Watkins give a hug to a fellow student as the class of 2014 celebrate during the graduation ceremony at Howard University in Washington, on Saturday, May 10, 2014.
Credit (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" have just about faded from the air. Most 2014 college graduates have exited their ivory towers headed out to enter the world of work.

They enter an economy still recovering from the great recession, which hit college graduates hard. Twenty-fourteeners have witnessed those ahead of them—graduates of 2011 to 2013—trying to get work. They’ve seen them hobbled with student debt, living at home with their parents, and fighting for barista jobs at boutique coffee houses.

There’s very little good news for black college grads, for whom the unemployment rate is more than double the overall rate. In a chilling report called “A College Degree Is No Guarantee,” the Center for Economic and Policy Research refutes the stubbornly held belief that credentials and qualifications trump race. With data that is indisputable and devastating—the report reveals race still very much matters in hiring decisions. Key findings: When black and white grads— with the same qualifications—compete, the white grad wins out, and that even highly sought after grads with science, tech, engineering, and math expertise do not have an edge if they are black.

The prestige of the alma mater doesn’t matter either—from Ivy League elite universities to lesser-known institutions—black college grads are twice as likely not to get hired. The center’s senior economist, John Schmitt, puts it bluntly: “There is simply overwhelming evidence that discrimination remains a major feature of the labor market.”

But there’s more to this story than garden-variety racism. It turns out 21st century bias is as much about inherent privilege as it is deliberate discrimination. White college graduates are more likely to be a part of informal networks—friends and relatives who are workforce gatekeepers, and who can open the door for them. Rutgers professor Nancy Di Tomaso studied working class and middle class whites, finding that 70 percent of them got jobs from these networks. Describing this as “racial inequality without racism,” Tomaso says it’s time to recognize not just bias against blacks, but also bias in favor of whites.

This news is particularly distressing to me. Two members of the 2014 college graduating class are my African-American twin niece and nephew, and yes, they are looking for work. I can only hope they are not defeated by the odds of these diminished job prospects, and that some future employers will see who they are, and recognize them for what they know.