Modern Employment Discrimination

Substantial gains in the employment and employment prospects of African-Americans have been made since the onset of the civil rights movement and the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960’s.   Yet African-Americans remain substantially behind whites in their rate of employment and the type of jobs they hold.

The differences in unemployment rates are stark, with African-Americans consistently facing unemployment 1.5 to 2 times the rate of whites.  In October, 2011, the black unemployment rate was 15.1%, as compared to the white unemployment rate of 8.0%, according to the University of California Berkeley Labor Center.  The black teen unemployment rate was a staggering 37.8%.
Blacks hold lower-level jobs.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October, 2011, 29% of employed African-Americans held managerial, professional, or related jobs in the U.S., compared to 38.1% of their white counterparts.  African-Americans make up 12.6% of the U.S. population, but only 2.3% of doctors and 4.8% of lawyers.  
Some of these differences are due to disparities in education.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.8% of African-Americans age 25 and older have college degrees, compared to 30.3% of whites.
Disparate rates of employment appear particularly in different sectors of the economy.  African-Americans appear disproportionately and rely heavily on employment in public sector jobs.  Employment by contractors for skilled trade jobs and entrance into skilled trades unions remain stubbornly resistant to penetration by blacks.
Civil rights organizations and lawyers need to continue to work to remove the disparities between whites and blacks in employment.  In doing that, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes will be a significant barrier.  The Wal-Mart case appears to make it much harder to bring class actions that attack discriminatory practices on a company-wide basis.  What actions can and should be taken in light of Wal-Mart remains to be seen.
The Chicago Lawyers' Committee and Openhill welcome you to We are hopeful that, through collaboration and discussion, we can make a meaningful impact to champion ladders out of poverty through employment opportunity free from discrimination.
Paul Strauss is the Director of the Employment Opportunities Project at the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. For twenty-five years Paul handled employment discrimination and other civil rights case, primarily class actions based on race, sex, and age, as an associate and partner at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a leading civil rights firm. He also worked for two years, before coming to CLC, as General Counsel to Affordable Housing Centers of America, a not-for-profit devoted to helping homeowners restructure their loans to avoid foreclosure.