fresh voices from the front lines of change







An African-American millennial on average needs to have an associate’s degree in order to have the same chance of being employed as a white person who only has a high school diploma.

This fact is simply shocking. Only 74 percent of black high school graduates have jobs, while 88 percent of white high school graduates are employed. Only when black people reach the level of an associate’s degree do their employment levels reach 88 percent.

The group Young Invincibles – a nonpartisan organization that seeks to amplify the voices of and expand opportunity for young Americans – this week released its new report, “Closing the Race Gap: Alleviating Young African American Unemployment through Education.” The study asks the question: “Given the steep climb for African Americans, is it possible that a college degree improves employment outcomes to a greater degree for African-Americans millennials than whites?”

The bad news is clear and simple: Racial disparity is present at every level. Yet, there is also good news: With each new level of education, the race gap begins to close. The report offers policy solutions that will address minority unemployment by lowering the barriers to higher education opportunities.

Authors Rory O’Sullivan, Konrand Mugglestone and Tom Allison assembled data that demonstrate that “education attainment is not only a key for closing the employment gap among millennials, but also the wage gap.”

In a phone briefing on the report, Allison and Jennifer Wong, the policy and advocacy manager for Young Invincibles, called attention to the role of race and education in employment.

Competitive admissions and high costs are often obstacles for members of racial minorities seeking higher education. Their lack of higher degrees then limits their employment opportunities. Without meaningful jobs that offer higher salaries, their children will also face barriers to higher education. The cycle is continuous and harmful.

But members of racial minorities benefit far more from each additional education degree than do whites. The report states that a professional degree has a 146 percent larger effect on the employment prospects of a black male than the same degree does for a white male.

Solutions lie in three main categories: college readiness, affordability, and completion, according to the report.

Early awareness and counseling help minorities navigate the confusing maze of college admissions. Policies that simplify the process, provide more information, and increase access to counselors are crucial in preparing minorities for a quality higher education. American Counseling Fellows was used as an example of an alternative in aiding early high school students.

Yet, just awareness isn’t enough – higher education must be more affordable. For African Americans, the study said, the cost of college is one of the greatest barriers to educational achievement. The Young Invincibles report focused on community colleges and Pell grants as two potential avenues of expanding opportunities.

First, more funding needs to be invested in community colleges; currently, public four-year institutions are given 86 percent more federal funding per student than public two-year institutions. Furthermore, low-income minority students disproportionately use the community college system – thus they will be the ones immediately affected by an expansion in funding.

Secondly, the Pell Grants program can be expanded to fund a higher percentage of college costs. Legislation already exists – and must be pushed forward. For example, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mazie Hirono’s (D-Hawaii) have introduced the CHANCE (Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically) Act, which would boost Pell Grant’s maximum threshold from $5,730 to $8,900.

Competitive admissions policies often bar minority students from entering into these universities in the first place. The ability to attend a selective and elite institution is paramount to minority students, mostly because of their better financial aid packages, higher graduation rates, and superior economic outcomes. Therefore, we must work towards increasing the number of minority millennials enrolled at these universities.

The Young Invicibles study demonstrated that the policy of designating a guaranteed acceptance of top percentages of secondary school students has been successful. Statistics have shown that this approach will increase both the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the institutions – as seen in Texas, Florida, and California.

Institutions must also improve the connections between two-year community college programs and four-year universities, in order to encourage minority millennials in continuing their education path.

The report serves as a reminder that making higher education more affordable and accessible is key to addressing the nation’s unemployment crisis and racial disparities in the job market. “There is no single solution that will solve the employment and wage gap,” the report said, “but increasing educational attainment through [the three proposed] broad national policies would be an essential start.”

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