The job prospects for African-American college graduates are dim, experts say, with just the barest glimmer of hope. "African-American graduates continue to have a hard time finding jobs," said Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy (PREE) at the Economic Policy Institute. And they have an even harder time than peers from other racial groups.
"Unemployment disparities continue to exist and during the recession that gap widened," Wilson said. In the past year, the unemployment rate for Black college grads has been 13.1 percent, an increase of 5 percentage points since 2007, before the recession began. In comparison, the jobless rate for White college graduates is 8 percent (a 3 percent increase) and 7.8 percent for Hispanic grads.
The dilemma faced by Black graduates, in part, reflects the barrenness of the overall labor landscape in the United States. In the wake of the Great Recession, the labor market has been making excruciatingly slow progress toward full recovery.
For example, in April, 288,000 new jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent. That should have been good news. However, the drop in joblessness was entirely the result of the 806,000 people who left the work force, not because more people were finding work.
Overall, the U.S. labor market still has a deficit of more than 7 million jobs, which means competition among college graduates will be stiff, according to a new EPI report, "The Class of 2014."
"Since the unemployment rate of young college graduates remains significantly elevated, the Class of 2014 will join a sizable backlog of unemployed college graduates from the last five graduating classes (the classes of 2009–2013) in an extremely difficult job market," the report concluded.
In addition to increased competition, Black job seekers may also face discrimination and other barriers, such as the lack of influential connections, experts say. "The main concern I have for African-American graduates is their ability to access social networks to leverage jobs," said Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.
"African-American students, specifically first-generation college students, have less social capital which puts them at a disadvantage."
The lack of access to jobs could have long-term adverse consequences. "The implications over the long run is that the longer it takes for these young people to find jobs it represents a loss of income over their lifetime that will likely not be recovered," Wilson said.
According to the EPI report, for the next 10 to 15 years, those in the Class of 2014 will likely earn less than if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful. The impact on African-American graduates will likely spread throughout their families – especially since older Blacks are less likely to have retirement savings – and communities, Wilson said.
"These young people are going to be even more challenged to help support aging parents and at the same time take care of their own families," she said.
In one bit of positive news, African Americans have shown a smaller decline in labor force participation than other groups, and that perseverance could benefit them as jobs are added to the market.
"Blacks were less likely to leave the workforce over the course of the recession," Wilson said. "This sort of resilience may be beginning to pay off. There is hope."
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