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Field Perspectives on the Causes of Low Employment Among Less Skilled Black Men


  • Acknowledgments: I am most grateful to the survey participants who shared their thoughts and experiences and to local social service providers who assisted with sample recruitment. I thank John Borkowski and the team at the Notre Dame Center for Children and Families for helpful comments and access to survey space. I also benefited from lengthy discussions with Kasey Buckles, Jay Caponigro, Bill Carbonaro, and James Sullivan. I also thank my very capable research assistants, Shawn Moulton, Jennifer Heissel, and James Kyle O'Donnell. This research was funded in part by the Seng Foundation Endowment for Market-Based Programs and Catholic Values and the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame. Errors are my own.


This article presents findings from a unique survey that assessed explanations for low black male employment by questioning participants in a low skill labor market. Black men identified barriers to hiring—including felony convictions, drug testing, low skill levels, and bias—as major reasons for their non-employment. Employers believed black male applicants were less likely to have the desired interpersonal skills and work ethic, and that they were less likely to pass pre-employment drug tests.