Littlejohn has a degree in marketing but doesn’t feel as if the degree and the curriculum she studied gave her the focus she needed to land the right job. She agrees that racism, however subtle, plays a significant part in who gets hired. While in college, she held internships at various Fortune 500 firms and witnessed firsthand the racial politics that determined who was hired.
“Certain candidates got passed up for jobs for lesser-qualified candidates,” she says. Littlejohn has been passed up for jobs in favor of male candidates, although she feels she was better qualified. She also says that appearance might be a factor.
“I have natural hair,” Littlejohn says. “Oftentimes I feel like I can’t be myself and have to alter my appearance by tying my hair back for a job interview. It’s tough, and more so than anything else, it’s a feeling of not being able to be yourself.”
Fraser also believes that internal politics play a considerable role in higher black unemployment rates, saying that some companies become less inclined to hire minorities once their respective diversity-hiring goals have been met.
But he offers some advice to those who are soon to be out of college. He recommends that black college students analyze where the market is going and tailor their undergraduate studies and internships toward preparing them to compete in those areas instead of going the traditional routes. “College graduates should start looking at opportunities that are related to where the economic growth is or will be in the future, rather than where the jobs are right now.”
Littlejohn has already begun to alter her mentality in her search for job opportunities. She wants to work in television as a videographer, but with so many barriers facing her, she is now working on a business plan and approaching the job market as an entrepreneur rather than a prospective employee.
If we look back at the last decade, the numbers for blacks remain disturbing. Since 2000, black Americans with college degrees have had the highest rate of unemployment among all ethnic groups at their level, even when the market was fairly stable. Yet as the economy worsened in early 2008, the gap widened and the percentage jumped from an average of 4 percent to 7.3 percent between 2008 and 2009.
That’s a 3.3 percent increase in one calendar year, while unemployment for white college graduates remained relatively flat during this span at a steady average of 2.5 percent.
Lurie Daniel-Favors, a New York-based civil rights and consumer-debt attorney, says that this damaging cycle has been going on for a while, even before the current labor crisis. Black Americans have always been in a recession when it comes to jobs, and she points to a structural and systematic institutionalized racism as the primary driver.
“Blacks have always been the last hired and the first fired,” she says. “Countless studies have shown that when all other things are equal, if two résumés have equal qualifications and the only difference is the ethnicity of the names of the candidates, potential employers will go with the name that sounds the most European — or the least ethnic.”
Jean McGianni Celestin is a New York-based writer who covers race, jobs, sports and politics.