Last Hired, First Fired

“Today was NYPD Officer Brian Moore’s funeral. Obama sent 0 delegates. I guess the 3 he sent to a Baltimore drug dealer’s funeral were busy,” tweeted the Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip account in reference to the recent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Recently, some people have argued that Freddie Gray deserved the police mistreatment inflicted on him – and thus, his subsequent death – because he was a suspected street-level drug dealer. Gray’s personal or criminal background, however, does not at all reflect on his character. Rather, it points more to the systemic discrimination that blacks face when trying to find legal employment – an issue very present ever since slavery.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the unemployment rate for black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20 to 24 was 37 percent in 2013. While 79 percent of the white men in Baltimore are working, only 59 percent of black men are in the workforce. Moreover, the $33,000 median income for black households is half of that for white households in Baltimore. As Pastor Jamal Bryant eloquently put at the funeral of Freddie Gray on April 28, Gray felt that at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.¨

For too long, blacks have faced employment discrimination. Following emancipation in 1865, former slaves were shuffled into sharecropping jobs. As sharecroppers, African-Americans were condemned to a vicious cycle of poverty in which they remained shackled to the white owners of the land. When they attempted to escape this cycle by migrating the North, they found that they lacked the skills to take up northern manufacturing jobs. In turn, blacks were confined to low-paying jobs that kept them in inner city ghettos.

On the eve of World War II, President Roosevelt took the first step on the path to erasing employment discrimination in the United States by signing Executive Order 8802, which prevented government contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on race, color or national origin. 23 years later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which extended the realm of Executive Order 8802 to include private employers.

Although blacks have equal rights before the law today, overt discrimination, manifested in false and negative stereotypes, and subconscious bias limit their ability to find work. According to a study by economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, people with white-sounding names like Emily were 50 percent more likely than those with black-sounding names like Lakisha to receive callbacks for interviews despite having the same resume. As the saying goes, blacks are the “last hired, first fired.” As an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline, we have to figure out a school-to-work pipeline for blacks.

Much of this begins by revamping public primary education and job training programs. Although a black man is President of the United States, black citizens across the nation cannot find the same employment as their white counterparts. 52 years after the March on Washington, jobs and freedom remain a primary concern for blacks in America. 52 years later, the black unemployment rate remains above 11 percent. And 52 years after the March on Washington, we cannot stop fighting for an end to employment discrimination against blacks.

Tejasv Arya is a three-year Senior from Montvale, NJ. Alessa Cross is a three-year Upper from Tokyo, Japan, and a Commentary Editor for The Phillipian. Kailash Sundaram is a four-year Senoir from Andover, Mass., and a Sports Editor for The Phillipian, vol. CXXXVII. Alejandra Uria is a four-year Senior from Houston, TX.