As a partner and chief diversity officer at Thompson & Knight, Pauline Higgins was not afraid to press the issue of hiring minorities at the 126-year-old Texas law firm. But when she left in 2008, she was replaced by an associate with less influence.
Now, current and former partners say, the diversity committee meets less often, and the firm has fewer black lawyers than before. It is a trajectory familiar in many elite realms of American professional life. Even as racial barriers continue to fall, progress for African-Americans over all has remained slow — and in some cases appears to be stalling.
“You don’t want to be a diversity officer who only buys tables at events and seats people,” Ms. Higgins said recently. “It’s about recruiting and inclusion and training and development, with substantive work assignments.”
Nearly a half-century after a Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson, helped usher in the era of affirmative action, the Supreme Court is poised to rule as early as this week on whether the University of Texas can continue to consider race as one of many factors in its admissions policy. It is a case that could have a profound impact on race-based affirmative action programs across the nation, and it has reignited a discussion of how much progress [people of color], blacks in particular, have made in integrating into some of the most sought-after professions, especially since the recession.
Keith A. Owens, 54, has been looking for work since losing his job last year as communications director for the Wayne County treasurer’s office in Michigan. A former award-winning journalist, he has applied for “40 or 50 or 60 jobs” with no luck. He has managed to scrape by playing guitar with a band and working with his wife’s firm, Writing It Right for You.
“I feel kind of funny saying the reason I was not hired is because I am black, because the fact is for very few opportunities I even got into the room,” he said. But, he added, he does not see similarly experienced white people going through the same things. “For some reason, things seem to have worked out okay for them.”
The economic downturn has only reinforced these troubling dynamics for black workers. They were hit harder than whites during the recession, in part because workers with less education were more likely to lose work during the downturn. They also have been slower to recover. One in five African Americans is employed by government — as opposed to one in seven whites — a sector that has cut jobs even as other parts of the economy have inched toward recovery.
Blacks are also under-represented in industries that have shown some strength during the recovery, including manufacturing and professional and business services, according to the Labor Department.
The result has been predictable: Black workers are not only more likely to be unemployed than whites, but they are also more likely to remain jobless for longer periods, wreaking havoc on their financial lives.
“Black Jobless Rate Is Twice That Of Whites,” washingtonpost.com, 12/14/12
Filed under “…But You Knew This Already.”