wonder why a majority of African Americans do not support George
W. Bush's illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq
might want to talk to a black gentleman and fellow Chicagoan
I know named Tony. They should also review some recent and important
research on hiring discrimination in and around Chicago, to
be discussed below.
"only" a High School degree but enjoys greater political
and sociological wisdom than most of America's college-certified
population, including many high academics. He recently posed
an excellent question after relating a media commentator's remarks
to the effect that the US was going to bring justice and democracy
to Iraq. "How," Tony asked me, "you gonna export
something you ain't even got at home?"
not devalue the moral bases of blacks' skepticism regarding
Bush's foreign policy by noting that African-Americans are in
a special position to see with special clarity through the disingenuous
and narcissistic pretensions of the White House's declared overseas
intentions. Similarly, one can debate the extent to which America
enjoys a functioning democracy and a serious national commitment
to justice. There is no denying, however, the simple fact that
equality remains an elusive goal for African-Americans more
than three and a half decades after the historic victories of
the Civil Rights Movement. In a nation that possesses the highest
poverty rate, and the largest gaps between rich and poor, in
the industrialized world, blacks are considerably poorer than
whites and other racial and ethnic groups. Economic inequality
correlates closely with race.
my beloved city of Chicago is no exception to the national pattern.
According to a recent analysis of (2000) US census and state
labor market data by the Chicago Urban League:
- The median
income for white families ($62, 680) in Chicago at the turn
of the millennium was nearly twice that of black families
unemployment rate for black Chicagoans (18.3 percent) was
four times the unemployment rate for white Chicagoans (4.6
poverty rate for black Chicago residents was 29 percent, compared
to just 8 percent for white Chicago residents.
- In the
Chicago metropolitan area, blacks live on average in neighborhoods
with incomes just 59 percent as high as incomes in neighborhoods
inhabited by average whites.
telling, Chicago's black community makes up 37 percent of Chicago's
population but accounts for 58 percent of Chicago's poor. It
makes up 13 percent of the Chicago metropolitan area's population
but contributes 38 percent of the metropolitan area's poor.
It makes up 9 percent of the state's population but accounts
for 25 of the state's poor people.
Made the Corrections"
abundant factual material demonstrating persistent deep racial
inequality in Chicago and the nation, however, conventional
majority wisdom in America denies that racial discrimination
plays a significant role in American life. "As white America
sees it," note academic researchers Leonard Steinhorn and
Barbara Diggs-Brown, "every effort has been made to welcome
blacks into the American mainstream and now they're on their
own." Predominant American attitudes at the turn of the
millennium are well summarized by the comment of a white respondent
to a survey conducted by Essence magazine. "No place
that I'm aware of," wrote the respondent, "makes [black]
people ride on the back of the bus or use a different restroom
in this day and age. We got the message; we made the corrections
- [now] get on with it."
Gun: Measuring Pure Racial Bias
testing study performed by the Legal Assistance Foundation of
Metropolitan Chicago (LAFC), with technical support from the
Chicago Urban League (CUL), suggests a different perspective,
one which acknowledges that many "corrections" continue
to be required. It reveals a "smoking gun" of pure
racial hiring bias in a key and growing metropolitan job
sector, consistent with other recent matched-pair testing studies.
"Current labor market trends - the decline of manufacturing,
the growth in the retail and service sectors, and the shift
of jobs from the City to the suburbs - mean," the LAF and
CUL note, "that suburban retail and service firms offer
important employment opportunities for urban low-wage workers.
But for low-income urban Blacks, the location and skills mismatches
created by these shifts" are exacerbated by white employers'
racial biases, particularly in jobs requiring public contact.
"mismatch" refers to African-Americans' disproportionately
great geographic distance from the leading spatial zones of
job growth. The second refers to the relative shortage among
African-Americans of the skills, training, work experience and
education sought by employers in a high-tech post-industrial
understand the role of race in hiring, the LAF conducted matched-pair
testing of employment opportunities for Blacks in entry-level
managerial positions in retail firms in the Chicago suburbs.
Their Black and White job seekers "all had the appropriate
qualifications and experience for the positions they sought,
and none of them faced any transportation obstacles." Thus,
their study "made race, and not skills or space, the salient
difference between Black and White job-seekers."
suggest that the deck still remains stacked against blacks.
When LAF sent resumes of qualified Black and White job applicants
to employers who advertised positions, employers contacted nearly
one-third of the White applicants for interviews, but only one-fourth
of the Black applicants - giving Whites a 21% higher chance
of being contacted for an interview.
LAF sent matched pairs of Black and White women to apply for
jobs in person, Whites received job offers 81% of the time,
while Blacks received offers 70% of the time - giving Whites
a 16% higher chance of getting a job offer. Moreover, when job
offers specified the numbers of hours an employee would be needed,
Whites were offered an average of 36 hours of work a week, while
Blacks were offered only 28 hours. At the average wage paid
by the employers tested ($8.86/hour), that difference translates
into a pay difference of almost $4,000 a year. (See Chicago
Urban League and Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, Racial
Preferences and Suburban Employment Opportunities, April 2003.)
of anti-black hiring bias are consistent with other and larger
employment testing projects. Researchers Marianne Bertrand of
the University of Chicago's (UC) School of Business and Sendhil
Mullainathan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
recently sent out over 5,000 resumes testing 1,300 job openings
in Boston and Chicago. Using birth records to determine the
most prevalent black and white sounding names, they found that
resumes with white-sounding names received 50 percent
more callbacks compared to black-sounding names. Also interesting:
white applicants with better credentials received 30 percent
more callbacks for white applicants overall, but better credentials
did not improve the rate of callbacks for black applicants.
(Sendhill Mullainathan and Marianne Bertrand, "Are
Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A
Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," National
Bureau of Economic Research, 2002).
the Smoking Gun: The Color (and Gender) of the Spatial, Skill
and Criminal Record Gaps
I can already
hear the howls of derision from America's army of racism-deniers
- a group that includes some African Americans (e.g. the Manhattan
Institute's John McWhorter, the black author of * Losing The
Race: Self Sabotage in Black America * (NY: Free Press, 2000).
The members of this army surely see the sort of research reported
here as a futile and last-ditch attempt to twist statistics
in defense of the archaic and "self-sabotaging" (for
blacks) notion that skin color still matters in "the world's
greatest multiracial democracy."
and Network Complications
however, is that matched-pair employment testing as conducted
in these studies actually understates the extent to which
deeply entrenched institutional racism still blocks equal opportunity
for blacks in the labor market. The tests conducted by the LAF
and CUL, it should be noted, were carried out at the end of
the long 1990s economic boom, under conditions of atypically
high labor demand. Since hiring discrimination increases dramatically
with the size of the unemployed reserve army of labor, the testing
project certainly underestimates the current extent
of racial discrimination in hiring. At the same time, by testing
only jobs that were advertised in the newspaper, on the Internet,
or on signs in store windows, LAF necessarily filtered out employers'
whose preference for white employees leads them to rely exclusively
on informal job networks and to shun open recruitment avenues.
LAF and CUL's exclusive use of female testers, appropriate given
the job sector they were examining. In his landmark study When
Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, sociologist
William Julius Wilson found that employer bias against African-American
workers in the Chicago area was highly informed by gender. He
cited the University of Chicago's Urban Poverty and Family Life
Study (UPFL), which interviewed 179 employers in Chicago and
Cook County. "Although black women also suffer as a consequence
of the negative attitudes held by employers," Wilson reported,
"in an overwhelming majority of cases in which inner-city
black males and females are compared, the employers preferred
black women." When UPFL researchers asked for employers'
opinions concerning differences between these two categories,
nearly half of the employers claimed that black females are
better than black males at finding and retaining employment.
As is clear from the numerous long employer quotations presented
in the chilling fifth chapter of When Work Disappears,
Chicago area employers interviewed by the UPFL were much more
likely to hire black females than black males.
Illusion: Not-So "Color Blind" Social and Policy Disparities
and the UC/MIT studies rest fundamentally upon the creation
of a statistical illusion - an ideal situation in which black
and white job seekers are equally matched to labor market opportunities,
employers' needs, and employers' preferences in every area but
race. The real world is different, of course, thanks, among
other things, to the aforementioned "mismatches."
and civil rights analysts make a critical error when they see
the skills and spatial mismatches as "color-blind"
structural and socioeconomic rivals to race and racism as the
main barrier to black labor market inequality. That's because
these gaps are themselves heavily racialized, reflecting public
policies that work to the disadvantage of African-Americans.
are technically exogenous to the hiring process. They are not
legally actionable in the same way as pure racial hiring discrimination.
But they are not exogenous to race and they are not unrelated
to policy and law.
It is no
simple accident or tragic legacy of past racism and segregation
that 98 percent of the Chicago metropolitan area's job growth
(as measured by the Illinois Department of Employment Security)
during the 1990s occurred in the suburbs, outside Chicago. Just
2 percent occurred within the city, which happens to house more
than two-thirds (68 percent) of the metropolitan area's black
population. A large number of living breathing contemporary
public practices and policies go a long way towards explaining
the disproportionate spatial separation between African-American
residence and job growth patterns in the Chicago metropolitan
area and across the nation.
practices and policies are richly documented by a number of
respectable civic organizations and academics. They include
the still widely documented and technically illegal practices
of racial steering, whereby real estate agents tend to direct
black house and apartment seekers away from white majority communities,
and racial discrimination in the granting of home mortgage loans.
The public privileging of private auto over public transit combines
with various zoning rules and the nation's regressive school
funding formula to keep African-Americans out of more job-rich
white majority suburban communities.
and related point cries out to be made about the skill mismatch,
intimately related to the much-bemoaned black-white school achievement
gap. There's a fair amount of publicity given to depressing
numbers showing that blacks score lower on standardized tests,
are much less likely to finish high school and to attend and
graduate from college than are whites in Chicago, Illinois and
the nation. These numbers have huge significance for the black-white
employment and earnings gaps in an age when the college earnings
premium is at its highest and powerful forces are dedicated
to rolling back affirmative action in higher education.
don't hear nearly enough about is the significant extent to
which these gaps are created, reinforced and sustained by active
contemporary public policy. The public school black-white Dissimilarity
Score for the Chicago metropolitan era is 84, meaning that 84
percent of black public school students there would have to
move to a different school if blacks were to be evenly distributed
throughout the area. The average African-American public school
student in the Chicago metropolitan area attends a school that
is 78.2 percent black.
remain unequal as well as separate, reflecting profound school
funding inequities that are inherent in America's decision to
finance education largely out of local property taxes. In the
Chicago area as throughout the nation, elementary analysis of
the relationship between local school funding and schools' level
of need shows that the most privileged communities tend to receive
the greatest level of funding and the most impoverished schools
receive considerably less per student.
to the predominantly white suburban school districts that send
kids to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago's
predominantly black and Hispanic inner city schools are poorly
funded, over-crowded, and over-burdened with kids from severely
impoverished backgrounds. They are disproportionately staffed
with under-certified teachers and tend to lack an adequate measure
of computer-age instructional technologies. Reflecting metropolitan
residential hyper-segregation and the inextricably linked relationships
between race, wealth, and local property tax base, the best
funded school districts in the Chicago metropolitan area - those
with the most to offer students - tend to be very disproportionately
suburban school funding and school quality advantages might
be alleviated to some extent if the heavily minority Chicago
public school district was permitted to include nearby suburbs
in its desegregation plan. In 1974, the United States Supreme
Court declared inter-district desegregation unconstitutional.
The high court thereby legitimized de facto segregation as a
legal means of keeping black and white students separate and
unequal. It entrenched and codified the suburban white educational
advantage, writing into law the right, even the duty, of public
authorities to ensure that school racial compositions reflect
the racially segregated demographics of city and suburbs.
comes to older black youths and young adults, particularly males,
government authorities in Illinois seem more interested in incapacitating
their labor market chances through an expensive investment in
incarceration than in preparing them for meaningful labor market
attachment. It costs $20,637 a year to house an adult prisoner
and $50, 286 to incarcerate a juvenile in Illinois. The cost
of incarcerating one adult in Illinois is equal to more than
four and a half times the state's legally mandated public education
"foundation level" of $4,560 - the minimum expenditure
legally required to meet the educational needs of a single child.
The cost of incarcerating a juvenile is more than five times
the cost of sending them as full time students to the University
of Illinois at Chicago.
It is especially
disturbing, in light of these statistics, to learn that, as
the Chicago Urban League discovered last year, there were nearly
20,000 more black males in the Illinois state prison system
than enrolled in the state's public universities in the summer
of 2001. In fact, there were more black males in the state's
correctional facilities just on drug charges than the total
number of black males enrolled in undergraduate degree programs
in Illinois state universities.
Criminal Record "Mismatch"
spectacular and yet least well-known way in which living racially
disparate law and public policy generates racial labor market
inequality behind the smoking gun in the Chicago area relates
to the criminal justice system. Thanks to the regime of racially
disparate mass surveillance, arrest and incarceration that has
emerged largely under the auspices of the War on Drugs during
the last 25-30 years, Black male ex-felons are equivalent in
number to 42 percent of the black male workforce in the Chicago
area. This is a fact of no small significance for labor market
inequality by race - something that other scholars and I have
written about in other venues (see especially The Vicious
Circle: Race, Prison, Community and Jobs in Chicago, Illinois
and The Nation, Chicago: Chicago Urban League, October 2002,
available online at www.cul-chicago.org,
click on "Research Reports Available Online"). Reviewing
the negative labor market consequences of mass incarceration
- including its artificial suppression of the true black male
unemployment rate, which stood at 39 percent in the mid-1990s
when prisoners were factored in (which they are not in government
calculations) - Princeton sociologist Bruce Western has recently
system has a pervasive influence on the life chances of disadvantaged
minorities ... Although typically the preserve of criminology,
incarceration appears to shape aspects of inequality that
are of traditional interest to stratification researchers.
likely that status attainment, school-to-work transitions,
and family structure are all influenced, perhaps even routinely,
by the penal system in the current period of high incarceration.
From this perspective, the usual list of institutional influences
on social stratification - schools, the families, and social
policy - should be expanded to consider the coercive redistribution
of life chances through incarceration.
problem with majority white racial attitudes at the turn of
the Millennium is a failure to distinguish between overt and
covert racism. The first variety has a long and sordid history
in the United States. It includes such actions, policies and
practices as the burning of black homes and black churches,
the public use of derogatory racial slurs and epithets, the
open banning of blacks from numerous occupations, the open political
disenfranchisement of blacks and the open segregation of public
facilities by race.
variety of racism is largely defeated, outlawed and discredited
in the US. Witness the rapid public humiliation and political
demotion of Trent Lott, who lost his position as Senate Majority
Leader after verbally embracing the openly segregationist 1948
Presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond.
variety involves the more impersonal operation of social and
institutional forces and processes in ways that produce deep
black disadvantage in the labor market and numerous other sectors
of American life. It includes racially segregated real estate
practices, racial discrimination in hiring and promotion, the
systematic under-funding and under-equipping of schools predominantly
attended by blacks relative to schools predominantly attended
by whites, the disproportionate surveillance, arrest and incarceration
of blacks and much more. Richly enabled by policymakers who
commonly declare allegiance to anti-racist ideals, it has an
equally ancient history that has outlived the explicit, open
and public racism of the past and the passage of civil rights
It may actually
be deepened by these civil rights victories insofar as those
victories encourage the illusion of racism's disappearance and
the strongly related notion that the only barriers left to African-American
success and equality are internal to individual blacks and their
community. As Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown note, "it is hard
to blame people" for falsely believing that racial discrimination
has been essentially abolished in America "when our public
life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration
ideal and our ostensible progress towards achieving it."
Episodes like the recent demotion of Trent Lott may actually
offer a potentially dangerous new opportunity for the nation
to pat itself on the back for advancing beyond the primitive
state of level-one racism while digging the hole of the deeper
racism yet deeper.
to expose that persistent deep racism, it is crucial to realize
that it continues to operate against African-Americans who have
overcome or avoided some of the society's broader racially disparate
structural forces by attaining the skills and credentials required
to access modern labor market opportunities. This is the great
contribution of matched-pair employment testing. We need, however,
to go yet deeper, behind the smoking gun of pure discrimination
to see that spatial, skill, and criminal record "mismatches"
are themselves deeply colored by and expressive of a covert
racism that involves special white fear and loathing toward
males within the African-American population.
is Vice President for Research and Planning at the Chicago
Urban League. His articles and essays have appeared in Z
Magazine, Monthly Review, the Journal of American Ethnic
History and Dissent. He is the author of The Color
of Opportunity: Race, Place, Policy and Labor Market Inequality
in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. (See
also, Chicago Urban League and Legal Assistance Foundation
of Chicago, Racial
Preferences and Suburban Employment Opportunities, April 2003.)
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