Underemployment of African American Men

Underemployment of African American Men

Racial discrimination in the American labor force has been a constant variable. Although there is perceived equality in the access to employment, it is clear that African Americans have always had lower chances. The statistics are a combination of many yet persistent historical factors. The introduction of social security in the 1930s shows the extent to which policymakers go to alienate African Americans (DeWitt, 2010). It was claimed that the program would only cover the employed individuals yet there were serious gaps among races. White Americans comprised a large percentage of the employed labor force as close to two-thirds of African Americans were domestic and farm workers and could not be covered. Politicians today advance the same narrative when they talk about labor issues, which explain the fragmented employment statistics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), whites accounted for 78% of the civilian labor force, followed by African Americans 13%, Asian Americans 6%, and finally American natives 3% in 2018.

Gee (2018) questions why the number of African American executives is still low despite the changes in employment dynamics. Gee (2008) used an EEOC database of employment data by race, gender, and job classification and executive parity index (EPI) to evaluate whether there have been changes in employment in the last decades. He found that white men came first with an EPI of 1.81 followed by Hispanic men with 1.07 EPI, white women with 0.65 EPI, and African American men with 0.63 EPI (Gee, 2018). Gee further found out that white executives accounted for 61.7% compared to less than 8% for African American men and women. In the civilian non-institutionalized labor force, African Americans aged 25-45 years accounted for 83.7% with an unemployment rate 9.1% of while whites comprised 91.5% with an unemployment rate of 4.5% (Lang and Lehmann, 2011).

The disparities also feature widely in the wage gap among races. Although the principle of equal pay applies in all organizations, those that have discriminatory tendencies have some disparities. Borowczyk-Martins, Bradley, and Tarasonis (2017) state that the firms and the African Americans understand that there is a utility cost of prejudice between them. Thus, African Americans are likely to negotiate for lower wages compared to their white counterparts. In addition, the firms are likely to offer lower wages to such individuals, but only when there are no hire alternatives (Borowczyk-Martins, Bradley, & Tarasonis, 2017). Wage differentials between white and African American men increase with career progression. The gap is usually minimal but increases to about 14% by the time they reach 40 years in blue-collar jobs (Lang and Lehmann, 2011).

Most employers always prefer white Americans as underscored by Pager and Shepherd (2008). They usually have prejudice towards African American men, especially those from the inner cities. Some employers have claimed that these individuals are usually “lazy” and “unreliable” when hiring (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Pager and Shepherd (2008) further quote an independent study in which researchers used equally qualified resumes but with racially identifiable names to apply for jobs in Boston and Chicago. They noted that white-associated names triggered callbacks of more than 50% compared to those of African Americans (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Additionally, African American men spend more time looking for work, which explains their little experience and low salaries when employed. Pager and Shepherd (2008) study underscores that African Americans are underemployed or unemployed because of their racial background.

Perceived criminality of African Americans plays a major role in their underemployment. Pager, Western, and Sugie (2009) found that most employers were unwilling to hire individuals with criminal records regardless of their race. However, given the choice between white and African and American offenders, most employers chose the former. Underemployment for African Americans gets worse because of their perceived criminality. Media and societal portrayal of African Americans as “criminal and dangerous” has made potential employers to disregard their job applications (Oliver, 2003). Brent Staples, an African American writer for the New York Times, claims that he had such experiences when he was a graduate at the University of Chicago. White people crossed the street or closed their car doors as he approached them (Oliver, 2003). The priming mental process has played an instrumental role in the development of these stereotypes. Holt (2013) states that American television has been the foremost primer of race perception. Most violent crimes covered are usually by non-white men, which advances the narrative that criminality is natural among African Americans (Holt, 2013). These perceptions can be underscored by the higher number of African American arrests, which is six times higher compared to whites (Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009).

The unavailability of models and tools to measure potential productivity of applicants increases the chances of using stereotyped methods, especially against African Americans and other minorities. Employers are unwilling to probe African American applicants further even when they are qualified for the jobs offered (Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009). In addition, lack of employment when applying for a job negatively influences African American’s chance of being shortlisted. Pedulla (2018) claims that there is a perception that unemployment makes someone redundant but it is skewed more against the African Americans. Pedulla (2018) based the conclusions on fictitious applications submitted for real job openings in five US labor markets. The intersection between race and employment, although popular, is challenging to elucidate, especially the causative factors.

American organizations have tried some plausible solutions to address underemployment among African American males and other minorities. According to Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly (2006), they have experimented with responsibility for diversity, training and feedback, as well as reducing social isolation. These approaches reduce stereotyping and bias by increasing the visibility (Kalev, 2009). The major prejudice minority workers face is that they are incompetent yet they maybe qualified enough to increase firm performance and competitiveness. Other strategies that can be used include cross-training, promoting the formation of self-directed work and problem-solving teams, personnel policies, as well as favorable union agreements (Kalev, 2009).

Firms serious about addressing inequalities through diversity have established highly effective evaluation programs. They have advocacy committees that assess diversity challenges, propose solutions, and provide recommendations when they fail to achieve the desired results, as was the case with Deloitte & Touche advocacy committee (Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006). Some firms appoint managers whose responsibility is to determine diversity gaps, devise effective solutions, and implement them accordingly. Such professionals can be successful but their strategies maybe wanting since they do not collaborate with others.

There have been conflicting explanations about diversity and solutions. Foley and Williamson (2018) states that some of affirmative actions taken contradict the actual diversity goals of fairness, equity, and nondiscrimination. The situation arises with the confusion created by the requirement of managers to uphold merit and accept that merit based system must b affected by subjective bias (Foley & Williamson, 2018). Leslie (2017) also states that there may be serious unintended consequences such as, “backfire (negative diversity goal progress), negative spillover (undesirable effects on outcomes other than diversity goal progress), positive spillover (desirable effects on outcomes other than diversity goal progress), and false progress (improved diversity metrics without true diversity goal progress).” Consequently, there is a need for further research to determine ways to make diversity inclusive and successful.

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