Sunday, November 13, 2011

Education not paying for young African Americans?

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

CNN rightly noted recently that the unemployment rate for young people had risen to alarming levels. What's even more alarming, however, is how these numbers play out race-wise - which CNN did not touch on.

As the accompanying chart suggests, among 16- to 24-year-olds not currently enrolled in school, a white person without a high school diploma has a better chance of landing a job in America than does a black person with a high school diploma.

In October, the black grad's big brother armed with a four-year college degree only matched the employability of that white person who had not yet completed the 12th grade.

Such black-white disparity has long marked the job front. Still, it's news to many people - likely due to the inattention of the media. The disparity conflicts with the narrative now holding sway across the land: America is post-racial. Blacks don't fare as well as whites in the job market simply because blacks don't have as good of an education as whites - due to either bad schools or the failure of black students to apply themselves.

The figures paint a different picture: Young black people who do the work to acquire the proper credentials have a harder time making it in the job market than young white people with fewer credentials.

The lessons these numbers teach:
  • CNN correctly fretted that that the persistently high unemployment rate among young people in recent years is creating a class of adults with no job experience -- which bodes ill for the nation.  Well, that worry doubles with respect to young African Americans, who are being ravaged by unemployment.
  • The nation, which preaches that education pays, is failing to demonstrate that fact to black children. The high jobless rate for black high school grads means that many African American kids have older brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and neighbors and acquaintances who have earned diplomas, but can't get jobs. If children could see that education really does pay, then they themselves would take schooling more seriously and be less likely to drop out.
  • It'll take more than better schools and anti-truancy campaigns to close the racial gap in employment. It'll take programs to counter the disadvantage black people suffer in the job market on account of their race - in other words, affirmative action.