Employment for College Grads Improves, But Not for Blacks

A New Lecture: “Anti-Black Discrimination in the Age of Obama” by Dr. Algernon Austin

The simplistic idea that impoverished African Americans have only themselves to blame for their poverty, due to their poor cultural values—a notion advanced by many, including black public figures such as Bill Cosby—is believable only if a blind eye is turned to those inconvenient things social scientists like to call “facts.” Algernon Austin soundly refutes the “culture of poverty” argument by paying careful attention to marco-economic data about long-term poverty trends and sociological case studies about persistent discrimination. In other words, unlike the glib punditry, Austin actually looks at the “facts.”
--Dr. Andrew Hartman, professor and audience member, Illinois State University

Contact Dr. Austin to arrange a speaking engagement.

College graduates from all racial groups experienced a decline in their unemployment rate from March to April--except for blacks. In March, blacks with a bachelor's or higher degree were already suffering significantly more from unemployment than other groups. In April, the unemployment rate for college-educated blacks increased while the rate for all other groups decreased.

For whites with bachelor's degrees, the April unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, down 0.2 percentage points from March. For Hispanics, the April rate was 4.5 percent, down 0.5 percentage points from March. For Asian Americans, it was 4.2 percent in April, down 0.8 percentage points from March.

The April unemployment rate for black college graduates was 7.5 percent, up 0.3 percentage points from March. The data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the black college-grad unemployment rate is trending upward while for all other groups it appears to be trending downward.

The unemployment rate data for the college-educated is not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Because of this problem, it is more accurate to make comparisons of the same month from different years. It's useful to compare April 2007--before the recession began--with April 2009.

The increase in the college-educated unemployment rate for whites from March 2007 to March 2009 was 2.2 percentage points. The increase from April 2007 to April 2009 was 2.0 percentage points. This month-to-month analysis also suggests improving conditions for whites--a decline from 2.2 percentage points to 2.0 percentage points.

The comparable analysis for college-educated blacks is distressing. The March 2007 to March 2009 increase was 4.5 percentage points. The April 2007 to April 2009 increase was 5.4 percentage points. Again, we see worsening conditions for college-educated blacks, an increase from 4.5 percentage points to 5.4 percentage points.

Much additional research is necessary to identify exactly why college-educated blacks are being pummeled so badly by the Great Recession. One idea that can be dismissed is the idea that black college grads are choosing the wrong majors. This hypothesis was raised when I first pointed out the worse conditions for college-educated blacks.

A quick look at the data on fields of study for bachelor's degrees by race from the Digest of Education Statistics shows that blacks and whites are very similar in terms of college majors. In 1993, the first on-line year for the Digest, the most popular black major was business. A quarter of all black bachelor's degrees awarded was in this field. The most popular major for whites was also business with a 22 percent of all white bachelor's degrees in this field.

In 2006, the year of the most recent data from the Digest, it was still the case that business was the most popular black field of study, and it was also still the case that a quarter of all black bachelor's degrees was in business. Business was also still the most popular white major with a fifth of all white bachelor's degrees awarded in this field.

Some people incorrectly assume that black college students flood Black Studies Departments. In 1993, only 1 percent of black bachelor's degrees was in "area, ethnic and cultural studies" (the Digest's category). In 2006, still only 1 percent of black bachelor's degrees was in "area, ethnic, cultural and gender studies." In contrast, for both blacks and whites about a fifth of all degrees in 1993 and 2006 were in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

While nonblack college graduates have been experiencing an improving employment situation in recent months, the situation continues to worsen for black college graduates. It is not clear specifically why this is occurring, but it does illustrate the fact that even in the age of Obama blacks still have a more difficult time finding work than other groups.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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