New York City is the land of opportunity — as long as you’re not a black male with a criminal record.
A new study from a team of Princeton University sociology professors revealed that race and criminal history continue to play a role in gaining employment.
Professors Bruce Western and Devah Pager set out to study the impact of discrimination on young men in low-wage job markets. They found that rising inequality, incarceration rates, and immigration contribute to a population of candidates with experiences very different than those of the employer.
As part of the study, which began in February 2004, 13 applicants went on nearly 3,500 job interviews with 1,470 private companies. All jobs were entry level.
The men were given the same qualifications and experience, while criminal history was randomly assigned. The most striking results of the study were that white males with criminal records were just as likely as blacks with no criminal history to find employment. Also, having a criminal record reduced the number of positive responses from employers by 57% for black applicants but only by 35% for their white counterparts. Latinos also fared better than blacks.
“A felony conviction confers roughly the same penalty to job applicants as does minority status,” wrote Pager and Western in Discrimination in Low-Wage Labor Markets. “These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that employer discrimination along the lines of race, ethnicity, and criminal conviction status remains a salient source of inequality in contemporary urban labor markets.”
Gerald D. Jaynes, a member of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists, says he is not surprised by the results. “What’s going on here is the employer thinks, ‘I have a young white man who made a mistake. I can give him a second chance. On the other hand I have a young black man who grew up in the ghetto committing crime and I don’t want to take a chance,’” says Jaynes.
Western says he hopes the study highlights these issues to the entire nation. “I hope our research can alert people to the problems of discrimination,” he says.