Many NY employers discriminate against minorities, ex-offenders

Black applicants without criminal records are no more likely to get a job than white applicants just out of prison, according to a Princeton University study of nearly 1,500 private employers in New York City.

The study, “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets,” was conducted by sociology professors Devah Pager and Bruce Western. It is the largest and most comprehensive project of its kind to date.

The study, which investigated discrimination against young male minorities and ex-offenders by employers, also showed:

* Young white high school graduates were about twice as likely to receive positive responses from New York employers as equally qualified black job seekers;
* Ex-offenders face serious barriers to employment; a criminal record reduced positive responses from employers by about 35 percent for white applicants and 57 percent for black applicants.

Even without criminal records, however, black applicants had low rates of positive responses, about the same as the response rate for white applicants with criminal records. Hispanics also faced discrimination by employers, but were preferred relative to blacks.

“The results of this landmark study are deeply disturbing and highlight the need for strong enforcement of the New York City Human Rights Law,” said Patricia Gatling, commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which assisted in the study. In New York City it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or a criminal record.

The researchers presented the results of their study at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting in Philadelphia on March 31 and are preparing a paper for submission to an academic journal.

“A lot of people are skeptical that African Americans still face discrimination in the job market. But even in a diverse city like New York, the evidence of discrimination is unmistakable,” Pager said.

Since 1972, the U.S. prison population has increased seven-fold, and that upsurge has affected young black men more than any other group. Research shows that young black men have a 28 percent chance of winding up in prison. About 60 percent of black high school dropouts will go to prison by age 35.

“The statistics from our study suggest that employer discrimination against minorities and ex-offenders has significantly undermined job opportunities for young black men with little schooling,” Western said.

The study used an experimental audit methodology in which teams of young men applied for real job openings throughout the city, presenting the same qualifications and experience. By recording which applicants were invited back for interviews or were offered jobs, the study shed light on how and when an applicant’s race or criminal background may be used as a screening mechanism by employers.

The study also found that minority employers were more accepting of minority applicants and job applicants with prison records. The researchers found no evidence, however, that educational credentials helped counter the stigma of incarceration.

The study goes beyond earlier attempts to measure employment discrimination. Previous studies have been conducted on a relatively small scale. New York City, by virtue of its size and diversity, offers a large applicant and employment pool and a wide variety of industries. The researchers sent 13 applicants on nearly 3,500 job interviews with 1,470 private companies ranging from restaurants to manufacturing to financial services. All jobs were entry level.

Further, in a departure from previous studies that included black and white men only, this study included Latinos, who account for 20 percent of New York’s labor force and also are a significant part of the low wage labor market.

“The research of professors Pager and Western will guide policy makers not only in New York City but in other urban areas with large and diverse populations,” said Anthony Shorris, director of Princeton’s Policy Research Institute for the Region.

From National Science Foundation

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