Have We Conquered Discrimination?
Few Americans today believe that discrimination remains an important factor in shaping opportunity. But because contemporary forms of discrimination are likely to be subtle and covert, it is difficult to assess whether discrimination is now a thing of the past or whether it has simply become more difficult to observe. I investigate discrimination in low wage labor markets by hiring young men - who differ only by race, ethnicity, or criminal background - to pose as job applicants, presenting identical qualifications to employers for real entry level jobs. My work shows substantial evidence of hiring discrimination, with black men receiving call-backs or job offers at only half the rate of equally qualified whites. In fact, a young black man with a clean record does no better in his search for low wage work than a white man with a felony conviction. Though discrimination is by no means the only-- or even the most important-- cause of contemporary racial inequality, this research suggests that discrimination remains far more prevalent than most Americans would expect.
In a second line of research, I investigate the labor market consequences of mass incarceration. The U.S. currently houses over two million prison inmates, with over 600,000 inmates being each year. Research suggests that finding steady quality employment is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not a former offender will return to jail. At the same time, contact with the criminal justice system itself imposes significant barriers to employment. I find that ex-offenders are about one half to one third as likely to be considered by employers relative to equally qualified men with no criminal background. Given the exponential growth of the ex-offender population over the past twenty years (paired with high rates of unemployment and recidivism), the barriers to employment facing this group matter not only for ex-offenders themselves but have also become relevant to concerns over public safety more generally.
Pager, Devah. 2007. MARKED: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Pager, Devah and Lincoln Quillian. 2005. “Walking the Talk: What Employers Say Versus What They Do.” American Sociological Review 7(3):355-380. (pdf)
Pager, Devah. 2005. “Double Jeopardy: Race, Crime, and Getting a Job.” Wisconsin Law Review (2):617-660.
Pager, Devah. 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” American Journal of Sociology 108(5):937-975. (pdf)
Grodsky, Eric and Devah Pager. 2001. “The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap.” American Sociological Review: 66(4):542-567. (pdf)
Quillian, Lincoln and Devah Pager. 2001. “Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime.” American Journal of Sociology: 107(3): 717-767. (pdf)