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Proof we don’t hire the most qualified candidate!

Monday, July 2, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

Here’s one of those strange coincidences where realities collide. It leaves you to wonder how to reconcile them. The Pew Research Center has just released a report on Asian Americans:

“Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.”

So we would expect these Americans would be in high demand by employers–courted and cajoled into accepting employment offers from multiple companies. Right? Wrong. Here’s where the collision occurs.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) also recently released a new report on unemployment among Asian Americans “during and after the Great Recession” (2007-2010). Their report is summarized at the Sociological Images Website:

“It is true that Asian Americans have generally had lower unemployment rates than other racial/ethnic groups, due to their overall higher educational levels. However, if we look within educational levels beyond a high school diploma, Asian Americans have higher unemployment rates than comparable Whites, with the gap widest for those with bachelor’s degrees.” 

A recent EPI update shows the pattern has not changed–with Asian Americans faring the worst of any group in the United States in terms of long-term unemployment.

“Asian Americans still had the highest share of unemployed workers who were unemployed long term (for more than half a year) when compared with white, black, and Hispanic workers—despite having higher education levels than these other racial/ethnic groups. In addition, highly educated Asian Americans continued to have a higher overall unemployment rate than similarly educated whites.”

As shown in the graph below, 48.7% of unemployed Asian-Americans had been out of a job for 27 weeks or more. Blacks are next (48%), and followed by Whites (42.7%).

It’s an interesting contradiction–likely mirroring covert national bias regarding Asian-Americans. We’ve been writing about this suppressed bias recently as it’s come up in pretrial research with either Asian parties and also in cases where Asian workers were involved peripherally. The level of distrust and animosity is surprising considering the overt stereotype of Asian-Americans as “model minorities”.

An article in the Atlantic offers a comment and three explanations for the long-term unemployment of Asian-Americans:

“What makes the situation even odder is the more educated Asians are, the more they fall behind whites. Asians with just a high school diploma were more likely to be employed than whites; however, Asians with a bachelor’s degree or higher more likely to be unemployed.

The report’s author offers up three explanations for the mystery. First, there’s the California problem: About a third of all Asian Americans live in the Golden State, which has disproportionately high joblessness, both short term and long-term. Second, there’s immigrant bias: Perhaps employers prefer to hire U.S.-born workers. Third, there’s racial bias. If Asians had the same long-term unemployment as their equally-educated white peers, their long-term jobless rate would be 8.1 percentage points lower.”

Like other biases, this one results in unfair treatment in hiring and (as we’ve seen) in mocking wisecracks by mock jurors. When we question the allegedly humorous comments in our pretrial research, the jurors quickly assure that bias is not a factor. Yet here we see it pretty clearly: the most educated, ambitious and up-beat citizens of this country are also among the most long-term unemployed.

Pay attention to your own tendencies, if any, to reject Asian American job candidates. And be attuned to this as a latent issue among jurors. Jurors are prone to making judgments that don’t seem unreasonable to them until the lights come on. It’s your job to be the beacon.


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