For Recent Black College Graduates, a Tougher Road to Employment

William Zonicle did what all the job experts advise. He majored in a growing field like health care. He studied hard and took time to develop relationships with his professors. Most important, he obtained a great internship in the human resources department at Florida Hospital in Tampa the summer before his senior year.

But more than seven months after receiving his diploma from Oakwood University, a historically black religious school in Huntsville, Ala., Mr. Zonicle is still without a job in his field. Instead, he is working part-time for $7.60 an hour at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the center of town.

?It was tougher than I expected,? said Mr. Zonicle, 23, who applied for jobs at hospitals and nursing homes from Ohio to Florida after graduating in May. ?Because of the work I had put in as an undergraduate, and making connections, I thought it would be easier to find a decent position.?

College graduates have survived both the recession and ho-hum recovery far better than those without a degree, but blacks who finished four years of college are suffering from unemployment rates that are painfully high compared with their white counterparts.


Among recent graduates ages 22 to 27, the jobless rate for blacks last year was 12.4 percent versus 4.9 percent for whites, said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

While there has always been a gap between black and white college grads, this 7.5 percentage point difference was far greater than before the recession burned through the economy. In 2007, for example, there was only a 1.4 percentage point difference, with 4.6 percent of recent black graduates out of work compared with 3.2 percent of similarly educated whites.

?This is very different from the past,? said Mr. Schmitt, a co-author of a study of employment among recent graduates published by the center. ?You?d have to go back to the early 1980s recession to see that pattern.?

Historically, the periods during and immediately after downturns have been harder on blacks than on whites. But in this current cycle, the trend has been even more extreme.

Younger workers absorbed the brunt of job losses during the Great Recession, so black college graduates, also subject to persistent racial discrimination despite advances in civil rights, suffered from a double disadvantage, the report concluded.

Although the numbers of whites, blacks and Latinos graduating from college have surged in recent years, the number of black graduates is still relatively small. Of the 1.9 million college graduates ages 22 to 27 who were unemployed in 2013, 57,000 were black.

Politicians, economists and business leaders are united in the view that despite staggering tuition and fees at many institutions, college is worth the cost.

And it still is, despite the significant hit college graduates have taken in recent years. Particularly when considering the alternatives.

The unemployment rate for college graduates in November, for example, was down to 3.2 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for those with a high school diploma and 8.5 percent among those with less education. College graduates earned roughly twice as much last year as those without a degree.



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