Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Public sector layoffs among African-Americans

Kathy Newman wrote about how low SES minorities rely on public sector jobs for social mobility in her book, No Shame in My Game. Newman studied young adults in Washington Heights and nearby areas who were employed in fast food restaurants, as well as some young adults who had applied but were not hired for fast food jobs. Jobs were scarce in the neighborhoods she studied, so that even these fast food jobs had a great deal of competition. Many youth, particularly African-Americans, studied for civil service exams, and regarded these jobs as one of their only ways to achieve a middle class existence, but even these jobs were hard to get. The relatives of her study participants who got civil service jobs were able to build middle class lives for themselves, move to the suburbs, and be role models for the rest of their families. Growing up in a diverse community, I knew at least one minority family who had achieved upward mobility thanks to a federal civil service job.

The current backlash against government, combined with tight budgets, has meant that many African-Americans with these coveted civil service jobs are in danger of losing them. That conclusion was self-evident, or should have been, but I hadn't seen the issue raised (and the issue hadn't occurred to me), until seeing this NY Times article.

People like to mock the government for having exacting requirements to document the procedures followed to ensure that there is no measurable discrimination. I don't how how much time I've spent filling out the EEOC paperwork for the dozens of faculty jobs I've applied for in my life, for instance, and the extensive other measures to make sure that people get treated equally. As much as everyone might mock these efforts, and I'm sure that they are imperfect and clunky, they do seem to have produced more equal opportunity for minorities than the private sector has been able to offer. The private sector may be more "efficient", but they are also less likely to hire people with distinctly minority-sounding names, according to randomized experiments, such as "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?".

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