By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

While President Donald Trump continues to boast that he’s done more for Black Americans than any Commander In Chief in history, the month of May’s unemployment figures make a strong case otherwise.  According to Stateline, a nonprofit news service that provides reporting and analysis of trends in state policy, college educated Black professionals are still being victimized by what could be viewed as systemic racism in hiring practices. An initiative of Pew Charitable Trusts, Stateline found that Black, educated professionals are remaining unemployed, while their White counterparts are being re-hired at a rate of nearly 3 to 1.

Trump signed an executive order last week that will adjust requirements federal agencies use when evaluating job candidates. These adjustments seem to de-emphasize the importance of college degrees, which is detrimentally impacting the Black work force.

A recent study from {Stateline} showed African Americans are experiencing discrimination in re-entering the workforce. (By fizkes_Shutterstock)

During the early stages of what appeared to be an economic recovery in May, White college graduates gained almost 900,000 jobs as certain pandemic restrictions were relaxed, allowing some non-essential jobs to be re-opened.  Meanwhile, their Black degreed professional counterparts lost 200,000 jobs, according to the analysis of federal employment data.

The report indicates that obtaining a college degree no longer means it strengthened chances to remain in a skilled labor position. Black employees with less education went back to work as restaurants and other retail establishments began reopening, many with wages well below their normal salaries. However, there were more opportunities for registered nurses, where candidates are required to at least have an associate’s degree on their resume.

“We also know that, historically, Black Americans have been locked out of jobs and advancement opportunities in the workplace because of systemic racism,” former Maryland gubernatorial candidate and current President of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation Ben Jealous told the AFRO. We cannot continue ignoring these stark economic inequities.”

The trend of registered nursing hires was not representative of what has transpired in the healthcare industry for Black candidates. Black physicians and physician assistants, who need a college degree, lost a combined 41,000 jobs as White physicians gained about 25,000 according to the Stateline analysis of Current Population Survey data provided by the University of Minnesota.

Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation, spoke about how historic disparities and racism has led to discrimination in the hiring process for Black professionals. (Courtesy Photo)

Another group of Black professionals, who are on the periphery of the healthcare industry, find themselves in perilous circumstances as well.  Black college graduates who work for manufacturers of medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies lost 40,000 jobs. 

The most glaring disparity in skilled labor hiring remains in the tech industry, where the adage of “last hired, first furloughed” continues to be the norm relative to Black employees. In an industry where diversity has been slow in coming, 36,000 Black software developers – more than a third – lost jobs since the pandemic reached its initial peak.  Meanwhile, their White counterparts lost 14,000 jobs- representing just a two percent decline.

“Because Black workers are heavily represented in low wage industries, the disparities we face bleed into other areas, including healthcare access and healthcare coverage,” Jealous said. This is why I raised $1 million dollars for working families in Baltimore who are working jobs like my grandfather did during the Great Depression and who are among the most vulnerable.” 

Blacks who had been working in government jobs in tourism and economic development are experiencing a peculiar number of  job losses. Almost 26,000 Black people, or 43 percent, of the tourism and economic development workforce lost their employment, while White job losses totaled 1,000, just a fraction of a percent in that sector. White collar, skilled Black laborers are losing their jobs in larger numbers, which has them more likely seeking employment in essential “blue collar” jobs on the front lines of the economy. That continues to be one of the main reasons that COVID-19 related health cases continue to spike among minorities. 

“During this crisis people of color are facing economic and health insecurities– we make up 17 percent of frontline, essential workers who also face higher risks of exposure to the coronavirus,” Jealous said.  “It’s clear how frontline workers risk their lives to keep America safe and healthy and how inadequately our nation supports those workers while the federal government plays politics with resources.”