Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Unemployment Stats

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 20, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Race, sex, unemployment, unemployment statistics

Today, in my Gender, Work and Family Class, we looked at employment stats, and discussed theories of why they look the way they do in terms of gender, race and class. BLS Employment stats2.jpg

Of course, we called them "theoretical frameworks," so I can keep my license as a college professor, as well as my symbolic authority among the undergraduates.

But it is fascinating to look at the employment statistics and wonder "what is going on here?"

I showed them the October 8 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The Employment Status of the Civilian Population By Race, Sex and Age." The unemployment rate among Whites in September, 20 years old and over, was 8.7%. Among Blacks, that same rate is 16.1%, almost double. And the Asian rate (although the statistics appear to be incomplete), is lower than the Whites by about two percentage points. And women are doing better than men. More on these stats after the jump.

I then posed the question: is this economic structure primarily a product of culture, prejudice, education, economics or what? Is it the Democrats? Is it George Bush? Yes, everything has multiple causes. But what do you think the major factor is?

All this comes on the heels of a New York Times article entitled "Culture of Poverty Makes A Comeback," about how the poor have a culture that makes them poor. Talk about blaming the victim - ugh. Yes, we need to educate people not to do counterproductive things. But that's not just the poor, I'm afraid.

More on the stats: Women have lower unemployment than men among both Whites and Blacks. The rate is, again, almost double for Black women.

The White unemployment rate fell a bit over the past year, while the rate for Black men rose a bit, and that of Black women is holding pretty steady. Not shown in the table is the fact that women's income is, on average, about 70%-80% that of men.

Of course, racism plays a role here, as studies show that employers are less willing to hire Blacks than Whites. One study I recall gave employers equivalent resumes, one with a "typically" White name and one with a "typically" Black name. The White-sounding names were given offers at a higher rate than those with the Black-sounding names.

Sexism also plays a role here, but its effect is not to give women fewer jobs, but to give them more, though those jobs are, on average, much lower-paying. And studies also show that women tend to do more of the "second shift" work -- working a full-time job and then coming home to take care of the kids, and do the cooking and the laundry and the cleaning up. I believe that the movement of women into the general labor force after World War II had the positive effect of liberating women from total economic dependence on men, but also the effect of reducing wages overall as the labor force doubled, and making it very difficult for a single-income family to make it.

Education also plays a role, as crumbling infrastructure is exacerbated by political maneuvers giving middle-class White school districts far more money than Black school districts. Studies also show there is more racial segregation now than there was in the 1950s, though of course it is not legally-mandated. I also believe that education has a "force-multiplier" effect, as educated parents tend to create expectations about education that push kids to succeed academically, and call schools to account when they fail to do so. Stats also show that people with a college degree earn about 150% more, on average, than those with a HS diploma. Those without a HS diploma, well, I can't even find those stats.

I don't know what exactly the effect of education is on getting a job. On the one hand, it's kind of an entry card, in that there are some jobs where they assume you'll have a college degree. But, on the other hand, few employers think that means the candidate will know anything about the particular job, except for jobs where the professional organizations have created curricula that colleges must follow, like social work or nursing. Nor do most employers ask for a transcript.

Instead, the name of the college is key, and that's determined by the reputation of your high school, your high-school grades and your standardized test scores, all of which are heavily dependent on your economic status. Bottom of the class at Harvard is going to have more chances than top of the class at a community college. Of course, some community college grads earn more than some Harvard grads, but the averages aren't in favor of that. The stats on college admission rates by race show that opportunity isn't equal. But the stats also show that there are more women than men going to college.

Having spent a great deal of time with undergraduates, I can tell you that they pretty much don't know much about anything much. But someone with experience can look at your face and listen to you talk and get a pretty good sense of what you're capable of. Undergrads tend to think they're there to learn a trade. But college isn't vo-tech; it's really my job to make them presentable to the upper middle-class managers who control the good jobs. After four years, some of them learn to be able to sit nicely without figeting in a job interview, and after that in the boss's office -- and have enough background knowledge to sound like they understand and follow a manager's directions more or less and not say or do anything too jaw-dropping.

Knowing Shakespeare, the quadratic formula, stoichiometry or the U.S. Constitution is not an entry-level job requirement anywhere that I know of. But putting together a decent sentence in English and looking and sounding bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is key. And, of course, ultimately, having some basic grounding in literature, math, science and social studies is helpful in learning the specifics of your job, as well as fitting into your social stratum. Yes, looks have a lot to do with getting a job. In fact, studies show that overweight applicants have a much harder time getting a job and earn less over their lifetimes than their fitter counterparts. If looks have a lot to do with employment, then it becomes clearer why there is a race differential in unemployment, as well as a gap in female income. Some people just don't "look" right for the job. My research earlier in the decade showed that unemployment among Black college grads was almost double that of White college grads. This "lookism" theory also explains a lot of the trans unemployment stats, showing rates in the high 30's.

But it's not just getting into a college that determines your fate; it's also getting out. You have to have at least a 2.0 GPA to graduate from most colleges, and a fair number of kids think it's all fun and games until they learn that they aren't getting that sheepskin. There is also a large race differential in terms of graduation rates.

Another stat that points to the prejudice issue is the EEOC charge stats. The EEOC gets about 100,000 discrimination complaints a year. That means those people think they have proof of discrimination. Imagine all the people who feel that discrimination is at work, but don't have hard evidence.

Of course, some of the students opined that the unemployed and the lower-paid are just lazy, and noted that our society provides equal opportunity for all.

Oy vey.

Have they learned nothing during the past two months of the semester?

Sometimes this job is harder than it looks.

The full table is here: The Employment Status of the Civilian Population By Race, Sex and Age.


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How about stats like "rate of persistent unemployment" of persons over 55. Then the same stat for all women over 55... then women of color over 55. US employment statistics are mostly crafted lies. They do little to throw any illumination on systemic workforce changes, persistent areas of under-employment, unemployability and real living wages.

No big surprise that the Labor Dept. omitted GLBTQ minorities from these statistics, or, as Gina noted, people subject to age discrimination. Over 25 months of unemployment and rejected applications, with an earned Ph.D. and 30 years of business and academic experience, have given me a whole new education in the realities of Post-Prosperity America and our country's new discarded class. Audacity of hope? Just the cynicism of privilege.

So what do you think the major cause is? Did I miss that in the post?

ShipofFools | October 22, 2010 3:19 PM

"I believe that the movement of women into the general labor force after World War II had the positive effect of liberating women from total economic dependence on men, but also the effect of reducing wages overall as the labor force doubled, and making it very difficult for a single-income family to make it."

Are you sure about that, Jillian? Because I got the impression that the Stay-at-home-housewife is largely a myth. In the lower classes women always worked, and the lower classes used to be the majority. A family had to be very rich to allow the wife to stay home. And rural women always worked anyway.

That's a good point, Ship. I tried to find some info on this point online and got nowhere fast. I'm quite sure that more working-class women did work outside the home than middle-class women, even during the height of the "cult of true womanhood" times. But I'm not at all sure that it was a majority of women who did so. I also think that their jobs were traditionally "female" jobs, meaning they didn't compete with men for jobs. But it would be nice to see some research on this point by someone who really knows.