The critical issue that persists in understanding ethnic and racial differences in employment outcomes (possession of a job, compensation for the job, likelihood of advancement or promotion) is the relative role of discrimination in explaining disparities. The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity aims to design effective procedures for preventing or mitigating the effects of employment discrimination. To design the best policies requires an understanding of how the mechanism of discrimination operates.

Discrimination in employment can be detected on the basis of self-reports, a content study of job advertisements in newspapers or other media, statistical decomposition methods, or field experiments that audit for its presence. Self-reports are subject to respondent self-censorship,cognitive dissonance or error. A comparison of independently derived estimates of the degree of wage discrimination individuals face with their self-reports of discrimination, finds that blacks substantially underreport their exposure to discrimination in employment while whites substantially over-report their exposure. Measuring discrimination is complicated if group distinctions are based exclusively on self-reports of race or ethnicity. For example, Latinos, regardless of skin shade, report their race as white at high rates and rarely report their race as black. It leads to inaccurate estimates of the magnitude of discrimination.

Therefore, data sets that enable researchers to make distinctions based upon skin shade will prove more useful in locating evidence of discrimination than data sets that rely exclusively on self-reported race.

Properly designed field experiments are the gold standard for detection of discrimination. However, they do not afford a straightforward procedure for calculating the magnitude of the effects on wages or lifetime earnings. 

  • Correspondence tests that involve the submission of artificial letters of application with faux resumes to advertised positions are especially powerful but only effective in settings where names and addresses of applicants signal group identity. 
  • Trained actor studies involving face to face contact between testers and employers also are potentially powerful, but always are subject to the complaint that the testers’ beliefs about the presence or absence of discrimination can affect their behavior and distort the results of the experiment (Darity 2010). 

The first task for the Cook Center will be application of these methods -- the self-report, statistical decomposition, and field experiment -- at a common set of geographical locations to assess the consistency of information about discrimination generated by each approach. Careful attention will be given to how identity is expressed and understood by job applicants, employees and by others who can affect their employment outcomes. Researchers will gather detailed information on respondents’ or testers’ phenotypical characteristics, including their skin shade. 

Ultimately Cook Center researchers will design a context-specific research protocol for detection of discrimination in employment. They will also design a measurement of the magnitude of discrimination directed against people with multiple stigmatized identities. Do multiple identities have an adverse effect on earnings and employment outcomes?


Federal Job Guarantee - National Investment Employment Corps

America’s workers would not be subjected to low-wage jobs if they were assured employment at non-poverty wages. The conventional way to achieve that objective is old-fashioned Keynesian pump priming or through the application of stimulus expenditures.

The federal job guarantee allows any American, 18 years or older, to be able to find work through a federally funded public service employment program – a National Investment Employment Corps (NIEC). While providing a particular benefit – such as raising the minimum wage – for those Americans in the most desperate straits, a universal job guarantee would benefit all Americans who experience joblessness now or in the future.

Moreover, a universal job guarantee would mean that all Americans would have access to jobs promising an income above the poverty threshold.

Each NIEC job would offer individuals nonpoverty wages: a minimum salary of $23,000, plus benefits including federal health insurance. The types of jobs offered could address the maintenance and construction of the nation’s physical and human infrastructure, from building roads, bridges, dams and schools to staffing high-quality day care.The program would include a training component to equip employees with the skills necessary to fill state and municipal needs.

The program would be cost effective, too. If the program put 15 million Americans to work – the total number of people out of work at the nadir of the recent recession – at an approximate cost of $50,000 per employee, the bill for the program would be $750 billion. In 2011, the total cost of the nation’s anti-poverty programs was about $740 billion.

NIEC would work similarly to the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps developed in response to the unemployment crisis of the Great Depression.

Since the National Investment Employment Corps would function simultaneously as an employment assurance and anti-poverty program, the existing anti-poverty budget could be slashed drastically, with those savings going to finance the job guarantee.