Discrimination in Employment Studies Critque

Recently I was confronted with a pair of studies that suggest racial discrimination in employment. I don’t have a spare 40 dollars right now to purchase one of the studies to read it in it’s entirety, but I was provided with a summary of the methodology for one, and the other one I have access to. I’m addressing the one I was able to read first.

The first comes from the NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH, July 2003, written by Marianne Bertrand, and Sendhil Mullainathan. The paper is called “Is Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal”? https://www.nber.org/papers/w9873.pdf

The study uses the names of white people and names that are specific to black people. Two high quality and two low quality resumes with each one bearing the name of a black person and the other bearing a traditionally white name. After sending out 5000 applications they found the black named applicants had to send out 15 resumes on average to receive a call back whereas white sounding names only had to send out 10.

They claim the cause of black named applicants having to send out 5 more resumes than the white named applicants signals racial discrimination. The problem is that unique names predispose people to discrimination. There is a long history of studies showing that people with unique names are discriminated against: “Multiple studies from around the world have found links between non-traditional names and employment, social and economic outcomes.” (1)

1: Normally I wouldn’t use a report from the New York Post but the content of the article quotes 5 researchers and an article that quotes another researcher, all of whom have conducted studies on the impact of unique names. The article in route to other articles establishes the history of prejudice and obstacle that comes with having a unique name regardless of race. Shannon Molloy 5/12/2017 “Your Baby’s Unique Name Might Ruin Its Life”. New York Post https://nypost.com/2017/05/12/your-babys-unique-name-might-ruin-its-life/

Since black people represent roughly 13% of the population names that are typically black names represent unique names, and atypical names represent a cause for discrimination irrespective of race. Which means this study is meaningless because there is no way to control for discrimination that occurs because of the uniqueness of a name and discrimination that occurs as the result of a racial inference from a name.

We don’t need to go into the study being biased based on the chosen locations which is Boston and Chicago. Boston was ranked in a national survey as the most unwelcoming city to black people by black people and Chicago was ranked 4th. (2) If you’re hoping to find racial discrimination, Boston is your top pick for a major city and there are only two that would be better than Chicago according to black people. This is irrelvant because unique names produce discrimination regardless of race, but if there was an objective basis for the study the findings would not be representative of national discrimination since these two cities have been identified as having a racial bias. This extends beyond the survey I mention where Boston has the highest amount of racial wealth inquality of any major city in the country, and there are other studies and assertions of Boston being more discrimatory than other places.

2: The story cites a 2017 survey by Chadwick Martin Bailey, a market research and strategy firm in Boston. Akilah Johnson and the Spotlight Team 12/10/2017 “Boston, Racism, Image, Reality”. Boston Globe. https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/boston-racism-image-reality/series/image/

Career academics conduct research to reinforce bias, the same as the media typically publishes stories that reinforce bias. For the media it is attention and money, and for researchers completing research that reinforces biases attracts attention to your work and increases the chances of funding additional research. The bias of the researchers is evident in the phrasing of findings. One quote is “We find that living in a wealthier (or more educated or more White) neighborhood increases callback rates. But, interestingly, African Americans are not helped more than Whites by living in a “better” neighborhood.” A better address improves the chances of applicant receiving a response and this finding does not differ by raice. Instead of clearly stating this the author chose to assert disadvantage by saying it doesn’t help black applicants more than whites. She says interestingly, when she mentions it in the abstract. It’s interesting to her because she’s looking for racial bias while ignoring other obvious forces of causation for the discrepancy i.e. unique names produce discrimination.

This study is garbage because there is an underlying causation of prejudice towards unique names which represent “black names”, and racial inferences from a name cannot be established as the reason why black names received less call backs.

The second study I was referred to was a 2009 paper called Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment, written by Devah Pager , Bruce Western, Bart Bonikowski. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20689685/

This study was much smaller and more narrow in scope. If I remember correctly they contacted 170 firms with 340 applicants, they focused on NYC and it was low wage employment opportunities. If you accept the study at facevalue, it represents an issue with this specific area and the low wage protion of the job market. Which differs from other areas and differs from better quality job opportunities.

The study accounted for qualification, attractiveness, and prepped the applicants for interview responses. It sent them in tandem to job interviews and measured the positive responses. It found whites received a postive response 31% of the time, latinos 25.1% of the time, and blacks recieved positive responses 15.2% of the time.

First the study makes no mention of names, where as previously mentioned unique names act as a source of prejudice whether reading a resume or interviewing an applicant. Second, the study does not disclose the race of the interviewer, which is an imporant aspect of the racial component. Third the study may be tainted by the participants understanding the purpose of the study and seeing it as an opportunity to further their percieved racial interest. A black guy, a white guy, and a latino guy are particpating in a study where they’re sent to interview for jobs, is there any chance that they’re not looking for a racial correlation? How can you hide that?

The methodology was quoted to me in a comment exchange but the person whose post the comment was on removed the post so I am working on memory of the methodology. In the methodology, the researchers state that they sequencially dropped out testers and compared the ratios. I presume this means they did multiple calculations where certain testers were not included to understand how tester who repeatedly experienced low positive responses may have skewed the findings. The raw ratio between white and black positive responses are just above two, where white applicants were generally twice as likly to receive positive responses than black applicants. The study reported that dropping testers sequencially still yielded a ratio that was above 1, which means that it is possible that some number of testers dramatically influenced the general findings since if not including a third of one races participants drops the ratio from 2 to 1.2 then the results are skewed by people who executed the interview poorly. Quite possibly intentionally. I could be wrong that what I stated is what the researchers intended by dropped tester sequentially, but still found a ratio that exceeded one but I don’t have access to the full study to know, and it doesn’t change the points. 1: that testers could know the purpose of the research and use it assert a racial interest through the study. 2: that vetting for communication skills and attractiveness does not mean that communication skills alone will translate into a good interviewer, and 20 poor interviewers from a race, whether intentionally or unintentionally could skew the findings.

The findings of this study are dubious to me for the 4 reasons I mention, but even if they were not, the study shouldn’t be cited as evidence of racial discrimination in employement opportunites. First because it is 170 firms in one location, where even if a racial prejudice exists, it exists in that place not across the United States. Second, if the study wasn’t flawed as I’ve pointed out, not only does it exlusively applcable to that location, it only applies to low wage jobs in that location.

Below is a graph that I’m using from another biased article which I haven’t read. I was skimming it and made that determination based on the authors claim that the key finding from the graph was the constant disparity in the unemployment rate between races. That isn’t my key finding, and I’m presenting this key finding to serve as the basis for why I don’t believe racial discrimination is problem as it relates to black employment opportunities.

If you look at the graph you’ll see that the unemployment rate by race rises and falls by relatively the same proportion. This means when there is an economic downturn racial groups are affected equally. If there was racial discrimination when there was an economic downturn black people would experience greater unemployment as employers kept more white employees than they did black employees. Second, white jobs would recover faster since an employer bias would provide employers with more white applicants in a desperate labor market who they would choose over black applicants. Instead we see the rising and falling of unemployment among all races as a consistent trend. Meaning when companies have to downsize because of an ecnomic downturn white people experience unemployment at the same time as other races. And when white people get back to work as the economy improves and there are more opportunities so do black people and other minorities. If there were racial discrimination the unemployment rates would rise and fall for different races at different times.

William M. Rodgers III Race in the Labor Market: The Role of Equal Employment Opportunity and Other Policies, The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences December 2019, 5 (5) 198-220; DOI: https://doi.org/10.7758/RSF.2019.5.5.10