In the quarter-century that Armentha Cruise has run her Silver Spring staffing firm, the nation has made strides toward racial equality. Voters have twice elected a black president, African Americans shine among Hollywood’s brightest stars, and the number of blacks who graduate from college has tripled.
But this stubborn fact remains: The African American jobless rate is about twice that of whites, a disparity that has barely budged since the government began tracking the data in 1972. In last week’s jobs report, the black unemployment rate was 13.2 percent, while the white rate stood at 6.8 percent.
Discrimination has long been seen as the primary reason for this disparity, which is evident among workers from engineers to laborers. But fresh research has led scholars to conclude that African Americans also suffer in the labor market from having weaker social networks than other groups.
Having friends and relatives who can introduce you to bosses or tell you about ripe opportunities has proved to be one of the most critical factors in getting work. Such connections can also help people hold onto their jobs, researchers say.
“It is surprising to many people how important job networks are to finding work,” said Deirdre A. Royster, a New York University sociologist. “The information they provide help people make a good first impression, get through screening and get hired.”
Cruise, who is black, said that in her early years in business she struggled to place her mostly minority clientele. Part of the problem, she suspected, was whites were more often in a position to hire and “tend to hire people who look like them.”
“African Americans are constantly fighting to overcome a perception of being less-than,” she said. “You have the president of the United States, you have Oprah, you have all the people who have done phenomenal things. But they are seen as the exception.”
Several studies show that black workers tend to lack these connections.
Read more: Linda Davidson, Washington Post