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Study: anti-black hiring discrimination is as prevalent today as it was in 1989

Racism is alive and well in America.

A black office worker. FPG via Getty Images

Americans are as racist as they were back in the late 1980s — at least in one crucial area: jobs.

A new study, by researchers at Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway, looked at every available field experiment on hiring discrimination from 1989 through 2015. The researchers found that anti-black racism in hiring is unchanged since at least 1989, while anti-Latino racism may have decreased modestly.

They looked at two kinds of experiments: résumé and in-person audits. In the first, researchers send out résumés with similar levels of education, experience, and so on, but the names differ so some résumés have a stereotypically black or Latino name and the others have a stereotypically white name. In the second, applicants go in-person to apply for a job; they each share similar qualifications, but some are white while others are black or brown.

In total, the researchers produced 24 studies with 30 estimates of discrimination for black and Latino Americans, collectively representing more than 54,000 applications submitted for more than 25,000 positions.

They concluded that, on average, “white applicants receive 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans” while “[w]hite applicants receive on average 24% more callbacks than Latinos.”

They also found no evidence of changes over time in rates of hiring discrimination for black people, with anything but the slight possibility of “a slow decline” ruled out by the studies. With Latinos, the evidence indicates “a possible decline in discrimination, although this trend is outside of conventional levels of significance” — meaning the data isn’t statistically significant enough to draw a solid conclusion.

The researchers deployed a variety of controls to verify their results, from measuring outcomes in different ways to controlling for socioeconomic variables like geography and unemployment rates. But they concluded, “In all models, we see little evidence of a reduction in hiring discrimination against African Americans over time.”

One complicating factor may be publication bias. Maybe it’s possible that studies that find no sign of discrimination are simply less likely to be published, since such findings aren’t as shocking. So the researchers sought unpublished studies to include in their analysis. But they found that “[t]heir inclusion did little to affect our estimates.”

One caveat to the research: Its main findings only go back to 1989. The researchers “note that our results do not address the possibility that hiring discrimination may have substantially dropped in the 1960s or early 1970s, during the civil rights era when many forms of direct discrimination were outlawed, as some evidence suggests.”

The studies also only look at discrimination at the point of hire, not other aspects of the workplace. And the meta-analysis only found about 24 studies — a low count that the researchers acknowledge may make it difficult to detect subtle changes over time since a lower amount of data makes estimates a little more noisy. (This was particularly true for Latinos, for which there were only nine relevant studies.)

Still, the findings are telling: Since the height of the crack cocaine epidemic and all of the racism associated with it in the 1980s, anti-black discrimination in hiring does not appear to have changed. That may help explain why, for example, unemployment gaps between black and white Americans have also barely changed over time, and why racial wealth and income gaps are still so bad.

The bottom line is whether you get a job in America can come down to your race. And that’s likely as true today as it was back in 1989.

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