African-Americans college students are about as likely to get hired as whites who have dropped out of high school. So says a new report from a non-profit called Young Invincibles, which analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census and examined the effect race and education levels have on unemployment. “We were startled to see just how much more education young African-Americans must get in order to have the same chance at landing a job as their white peers,” said Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of Young Invincibles, in a statement.
While the report paints a bleak picture for African-American college student job seekers who are competing with poorly educated whites, it also offers some encouraging news for black students who stay in school and get their diplomas: As both blacks and whites earn higher degrees, the difference in unemployment rates among the races narrows. Among black and white men who have earned bachelor’s degrees, the unemployment gap is only 5%. For black women who have bachelor’s degrees, the gap with whites is just 3%. For blacks and whites who earn professional degrees, the gap almost disappears.
Another way of looking at it: Among blacks who earn professional degrees, the impact on their chances of finding a job is nearly one-and-a-half times greater than it is for whites who earn the same degrees. In addition, African-Americans who have bachelor’s degrees earn $10,000 more a year than those who don’t have a bachelor’s, compared to white men, who earn just $6,100 more than they would if they didn’t have a bachelor’s. The value of a graduate degree is even greater for African-American men. Those who have advanced degrees make $21,000 more per year than grads with bachelor’s degrees while white men with advanced degrees make just $15,100 more, according to BLS and Census data and analysis by a group at the College Board.
The report ventures numerous theories to explain the employment gap between the races and a list of proposed solutions. Persistent racial discrimination in hiring is one obvious cause. The high incarceration rate among African-Americans is another reason, says the report, citing a 2014 Brookings study showing that there is nearly a 70% chance that an African-American male without a high school diploma will be in prison by his mid 30s; having a criminal record makes it much tougher to find a job. The report also suggests that the wealth gap between whites and blacks undermines African-Americans’ ability to be job ready. In a 2012 Forbes.com story, Emory University tax law professor Dorothy Brown wrote that the median net worth of white households was 20 times greater than that of black households.
The report doesn’t venture to suggest how to remedy discrimination, reduce incarceration rates or shrink income inequality. Instead it focuses on solutions within the education system. Among them:
– Early awareness and counseling about the college process. A program called College Possible counsels under-served students on how to handle applications and prepare for admissions tests. It has a track record of getting 30% more students to go to four-year colleges than those who don’t do the program. There is a massive shortage of college counselors, says the report, with 459 students per counselor. A program called National College Advising Corp, similar to Teach for America, is addressing the challenge. The report recommends that AmeriCorp provide counselors in low-income schools with disproportionate numbers of African-American students. Elite institutions tend to grant more aid than state schools.
– FAFSA reform. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) now has a stultifying 100-plus questions. The report backs a proposal by the College Board and the National College Access Network, also supported by Senators Lamar Alexander and Michael Bennet, to boil down the application to just two questions: adjusted gross income and family size. (I think assets should also be taken into account.)
– Federal funding of community colleges that serve low-income students with high minority enrollments.
– Expanding the Pell grant program beyond the $5,730 maximum award
– Admission alternatives to affirmative action. The study recommends that public universities take a designated number of the top-ranked students from each high school. (I think this approach has problems, since, unfortunately, some low-performing high schools don’t prepare students for top universities like University of California at Berkeley. For such a program to work, I believe it needs to be coupled with an academic and counseling support system once the students get to college.)
– Make transferring easier. More bachelor’s degree-granting institutions should form partnerships with less-expensive two-year community colleges, to encourage students to go on to get bachelor’s degrees. Example: Valencia College in Orlando, which has a successful partnership with University of Central Florida. Some 40% of Valencia grads go on to UCF.
– Increased support from the state budgets for the public system.