The Public Interest

Young blacks and jobs—what we now know

Harry J. Holzer & Richard B. Freeman

Winter 1985

BLACK YOUTHS have traditionally fared more poorly in the job market than have white youths. The nature of their problems, however, has changed over the past 20 years. In the early 1960s, for example, black youths earned considerably less than otherwise comparable white youths, and received a lower return on their investments in schooling. While differences between blacks and whites in skill, family background, and location in the country explained some of the black disadvantage in the job market, a large part of the problem was attributable to discrimination. The picture has changed in recent years. Blacks have made advances in occupation and education, and with the onset of equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, and related government and private efforts to reduce market discrimination, the wages of black youths have risen relative to those of whites. Yet, the employment problem of young blacks has worsened, reaching levels that can be described as catastrophic. In 1983 only 45 percent of black males aged 16 to 21 who were out of school were employed compared to 73 percent of whites in the same category.

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