It’s easy to believe the worst is over in the economic downturn. But for blacks, the pain continues — over 13 percent of black workers are unemployed, nearly twice the national average. And that’s not a new development: regardless of the economy, job prospects for blacks have long been significantly worse than for the country as a whole.
The most obvious explanation for this entrenched disparity is racial discrimination. But in my research I have found a somewhat different culprit: favoritism. Getting an inside edge by using help from family and friends is a powerful, hidden force driving inequality in the United States.
Such favoritism has a strong racial component. Through such seemingly innocuous networking, white Americans tend to help other whites, because social resources are concentrated among whites. If blacks are not part of the same networks, they will have a harder time finding decent jobs.
The mechanism that reproduces inequality, in other words, may be inclusion more than exclusion. And while exclusion or discrimination is illegal, inclusion or favoritism is not — meaning it can be more insidious and largely immune to legal challenges.