By David Dixon
Published Jun 24, 2005 9:23 PM
Sociology Professor Devah Pager has been studying the problems ex-convicts face looking for a job. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1990s, she made a disturbing discovery: It is easier for a white person with a felony conviction to get a job than for an African-American person with no criminal record.
Pager, now at Princeton University, recently conducted a study in New York City along with Professor Bruce Western. The study, titled “Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets,” was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
Pager and Western found strong evidence of hiring discrimination by New York employers against male job-seekers who were African American or of another oppressed nationality as compared to white men.
The study used teams of young men who posed as job applicants, listing identical work and educational experience. They sought work as drivers, couriers, cleaners, fast-food servers, deli clerks, sales representatives, stockers, busers, waiters, cashiers and telemarketers. Some members of the study reported a felony drug conviction and 18 months of served prison time.
The results? According to the June 17 New York Times, “Black men who had never been in trouble with the law were about half as likely as whites with similar backgrounds to get a job offer or a callback.”
Black men who stated they had done time in prison on their applications were only about one-third as likely to get a positive response as compared to whites who had been in prison.
The study also concluded that those with a criminal record had a 30 to 60 percent less chance of getting a positive response from employers. African Amer icans who had been imprisoned were at a double disadvantage because of racism.
Two-thirds of those serving time in prison come from oppressed communities of color. On any given day, one in eight black males is in prison or jail. African American men have a one in three chance of going to prison in their lifetimes, compared to one in 17 for whites. Three-fourths of all those arrested on drug charges are people of color, a number hugely out of proportion to their incidence of drug use. (sentencingproject.org)
In New York City, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of criminal record as well as race. Faced with the study, Patricia L. Gatling, Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, had to admit, “The results of this landmark study are deeply disturbing and highlight the need for strong enforcement of the city’s Human Rights Law.” (John Jay College)
In his 2004 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush proposed a $300-million “prison re-entry initiative” for people released from prison each year. He touted this as typical of the United States as “the land of the second chance.”
But Jeff Manza of Northwestern University said Pager’s study on racist discrimination in job hiring “demonstrates in a new and convincing way the extent to which the ‘second chance’ that Bush talks about runs headlong into the realities of race.” (racematters.org)
By 2003 there were more than 123,000 prisoners in local, state and federal for-profit prisons. The profits made from prison construction and from prison contracts for food, telephone systems and other services is in the billions of dollars, far exceeding Bush’s paltry sum.
Indeed, in a for-profit prison system, repeated and discriminatory arrests equal profit. Racist hiring practices become an additional method to drive people of oppressed nationalities into desperation. The solution is obvious: The racist prison system and hiring practices will only cease to exist when the people organize a mighty movement to wipe out racism and all injustice.