According to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, the “black unemployment rate is nearly or more than twice the white unemployment rate regardless of educational attainment.”
This is, of course, nothing new, but it is a fact that “rarely makes the headlines.”
Racial inequalities in the criminal justice system are the most frequently highlighted forms of institutionalized racism — and, of course, such an important issue deserves everyone’s attention. From police brutality to draconian stop-and-frisk laws to the racist war on drugs, there is much to discuss.
But upon even the most cursory inquiry, one finds that institutionalized racism also manifests in the job market, a problem that cannot be swept under the rug amidst concern about the disappearing middle class and growing levels of wealth and income inequality.
These two issues — racism in the criminal justice system and in the job market — are often interconnected. In November, President Obama announced that he would push for federal agencies to “‘ban the box’ in their hiring decisions, prohibiting them from asking prospective government employees about their criminal histories on job applications.”
This is highly significant, but it ignores the fact, uncovered by the research of Devah Pager, that white job-seekers with criminal records are often more likely to be hired than black job-seekers with no criminal record; black job-seekers with a criminal record find it nearly impossible to get a call-back. Race, it seems, is often the deciding factor in the hiring process, not the potential employee’s past.
Yet our elected officials remain stubbornly fact-resistant and unwilling to see these racial disparities for what they are. Unfortunately, a tinge of Social Darwinism lingers in the rhetoric of politicians on both sides of the aisle, leading them to insist that the inability of an individual to find employment is more a result of personal deficits than a reflection of societal tendencies and prejudices.
Reality shows this position to be increasingly untenable. With more disastrous trade deals guaranteed to ship more what is left of America’s manufacturing jobs overseas and with income inequality expanding at a rapid pace, it is difficult to expect these trends to cease without fundamental changes in the way our economy functions.
And, despite the frequent insistence that we live in a “color-blind” society, “disparities in unemployment are constant reminders of how race continues to have an undue influence on life in this country.”