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Tough Job Market is Tougher on Those with “Black” Names

As the recession grows deeper and competition for jobs grows fiercer, the black community is being disproportionately passed over for jobs. Recently, the New York Times carried a story about how African Americans are “whitewashing” their resumes to avoid job discrimination. Many are using initials to disguise “black-sounding” names.

Experts have long known that blacks face deep discrimination in the job application process. In a 2006 study, Devah Pager, a sociologist at Princeton University, had students with fictitious resumes apply for work with 350 employers, for mainly low-wage, entry-level jobs. A key part of the study was to discover how employers would respond to white applicants who had conviction records, including drug busts, and black applicants who had no criminal background. The findings: White ex-cons were called back for interviews 17% of the time compared to 14% for crime-free black applicants.

Moreover, a white-sounding name on an application is worth as much as an extra eight years of work experience, according to Marianne Bertrand, an economist at the University of Chicago. In 2003, researchers at the UC Graduate School of Business and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent out 5,000 fake resumes in response to random help-wanted ads in The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. The study entitled Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” showed job seekers with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to get called for interviews. In other words, blacks have to mail 15 resumes for every 10 resumes sent by whites in order to land one interview.

It may seem to be a paradox that Americans elected an African American president with a name like Barack Obama, but at the same time, balk at hiring a highly-trained employee with a “black-sounding” name. Jabbar Sykes is a 37-year-old mathematician who graduated from the prestigious, historically black Morehouse College. As he looks for a job in information technology, he told the New York Times that he’s not taking any chances.

For the purposes of his resume, he’s now “Barry J. Sykes.”