DMI Blog

Ezekiel Edwards

White Convicts As Likely to Be Hired As Blacks Without Criminal Records

Anyone claiming that racism is no longer alive and well in the United States, in addition to considering the race-driven circumstances surrounding the Jena 6, or statistics demonstrating that prosecutors are far more likely to seek the death penalty when the victim is white than when the victim is black (particularly if the defendant is black), or studies demonstrating that blacks receive harsher sentences than whites for equivalent drug crimes, or the fact that even though more whites per capita smoke marihuana than blacks, blacks are arrested and prosecuted at a far higher rate, should read a recent study by Princeton University examining employment discrimination titled “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets.”

In the largest and most comprehensive project of its kind to date, 13 young male applicants, presenting the same qualifications and experience, split into teams and went on nearly 3,500 entry-level job interviews with private companies in supposedly left-leaning, "progressive", multicultural New York City, jobs ranging from restaurants to manufacturing to financial services. After recording which applicants were invited back for interviews or were offered jobs, two sociology professors looked at the hiring practices of 1,500 prospective private employers, focusing specifically on discrimination against young male minorities and ex-offenders.

Some of the study's findings are depressingly familiar. For instance, young white high school graduates were twice as likely to receive positive responses from New York employers as equally qualified black job seekers. It also reaffirmed not only that former prisoners are at a distinct disadvantage in the job market, but also that, again, black ex-prisoners are in a much worse position: positive responses from employers towards white applicants with a criminal record dipped 35 percent, while for black applicants similarly situated it plummeted 57 percent.

However, the study revealed that our society's racism extends even deeper: black applicants with no criminal record were no more likely to get a job than white applicants with criminal records just released from prison! In other words, while whites with criminal records received low rates of positive responses, such response rates were equally low for blacks without a criminal background. Further exposing the overt racism at play was the study's finding that minority employers were more accepting of minority applicants and job applicants with prison records.

So, even when a white employer knows that the white applicant she is interviewing is a convict and the black applicant has never been in trouble with the law, she is as likely to hire the white applicant as the black applicant. Given how wary our society is of ex-offenders, and how difficult it is for ex-offenders to obtain gainful employment, this finding reveals the depth and breadth of racism in the job market.

Imagine what the results would be if the researchers tested the inverse?!? We would be hard-pressed to find a single employer as likely to hire a black person with a criminal record as a white person without one, and the differences between rates of positive ressponses would stretch across the Sahara.

The study reaffirms the dire situation for black ex-offenders. Blacks comprise a disproportionate number of the 2.3 million people behind bars, and thus are disproportionately affected by laws barring people with criminal records from certain employment and educational opportunities. Even when applying for jobs they are legally qualified for, black ex-convicts face dual discrimination on account of being black and having a criminal record.

Amazingly, the study found no evidence that an applicant's educational credentials countered the stigma of incarceration, suggesting that once the "criminal record" stigma attaches, it may never relinquish its grip.

But what the Princeton study shows is that blacks who have never stepped foot inside a prison face not only unequal competition from whites without rap sheets and comparable competition from similarly situated blacks, but they can also be squeezed out of the job market by whites exiting penitentiaries. A level playing field it is not.

As for ex-prisoners, with thousands leaving prison every day, our country should expand reentry programs for prisoners (both inside and outside of prison), ease employment restrictions for people with criminal records, repeal laws disenfranchising prisoners and ex-offenders, ensure that ex-offenders can easily correct mistakes on their rap sheets, and, most importantly, move away from nationwide policies of mass incarceration, frantic prison-building, arrest-happy policing, and fighting a costly, ineffective, and inhumane war on drugs, all of which contribute mightily to our bursting-at-the-seams prison population.

But even then, our country faces an even tougher task, one that we have failed miserably at for hundreds of years, and one that cannot be accomplished merely by repealing a statute or rewriting a policy: getting rid of discrimination against people of color. And for anyone who thinks racism is no longer an issue in America, think again.

Ezekiel Edwards: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:09 AM, Sep 25, 2007 in Civil Rights | Criminal Justice | Economic Opportunity | Economy | Employment | Prisons | Racial Justice
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