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60 Years of No Progress on Black-White Unemployment Equity

(CEPR) Algernon Austin  CEPR, February 12, 2023

Regardless of whether economic conditions are good or bad, Black jobseekers are less likely to find work.

Regardless of whether economic conditions are good or bad, Black jobseekers are less likely to find work. From 1963 to 2022, the Black unemployment rate has been roughly twice the White unemployment rate. There have been times when the Black-to-White unemployment-rate ratio was somewhat higher and times when it was somewhat lower, but the average of the ratios over this period is 2.1. This means that, if one looks at the unemployment-rate ratio alone, there has been no progress in providing equal employment opportunity for African Americans over the last 59 years. The last Congress did nothing to directly address this disparity, so there is no reason to expect it to narrow this year. 

Anti-Black discrimination in hiring plays a major role in this permanent inequality. The strongest evidence for discrimination can be found in field experiments where researchers have Black and White “testers” apply for jobs presenting similar qualifications or where they send out similar resumes with stereotypically “Black” and “White” names. A meta-analysis of 28 of these experiments over a 25-year period found consistent discrimination against Black applicants. There need to be stronger anti-discrimination policies and enforcement if the United States hopes to have equal opportunity in employment for all.

Another helpful policy would be a targeted federal program for subsidized employment. Joblessness can be concentrated in segregated and disadvantaged Black communities. For example, in the third quarter of last year the White unemployment rate in the District of Columbia was only 1.5 percent. The Black unemployment rate, however, was 10.1 percent. One way to move toward employment equity in the District of Columbia would be to target a subsidized employment program to the Black section of the city. If policymakers create a national subsidized employment program targeted to disadvantaged communities, it can help achieve full employment for all regardless of race, gender, or region.

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