UW-L professor’s research shows racial discrimination in jobs that involve customer interaction

John Nunley

John Nunley, UW-L Professor of Economics

A study co-authored by a UW-La Crosse professor, which is featured in Fortune Magazine, found that black Americans still face discrimination in the job market — particularly when they apply for jobs that involve customer interaction.

John Nunley, UW-L associate professor of Economics, co-authored the research with his former student Adam Pugh,’13; Nicholas Romero, University of Pennsylvania; and Richard Seals, Auburn University in Alabama. The research also included help from five other UW-L undergraduate students who were all funded by a UW-L faculty research grant.

The original study aimed to understand the job market for recent college graduates, which included an analysis of the job market opportunities facing job seekers of different races. The results point to the types of discrimination that still exist and why they may be happening.

From January-July 2013 the research team sent out 9,400 resumes of fictitious college graduates who completed their degrees in May 2010 to more than 2,000 online job openings in a number of major metropolitan areas. They applied for jobs in banking, finance, insurance, management, marketing and sales. Four applications were submitted for each job with randomly changed variables such as college major, work experience, gender, race and socio-economic status.

The applications signaled race by assigning job seekers names that are distinctively white or black. Examples of white names included: Cody Baker, Jake Kelly and Claire Kruger. Examples of black names were: DeShawn Jefferson, DeAndre Washington and Aaliyah Jackson.

The results showed that discrimination was not tied to factors such as gender, lack of a degree or socio economic status; however, race was a factor. Those with typical black names were 14 percent less likely to be called in for an interview when other variables remained constant. Researchers found that the discrimination detected overall was driven, almost exclusively, by racial discrimination in jobs that involved customer interaction. Examples of these types of jobs were ones with titles such as “sales,” advisor,” “agent” or “representative.” They found no evidence of differential treatment by race for jobs that didn’t involve interacting with customers.

Nunley says — though it’s not definitive — it appears that employers try to appease their customer base by interviewing and eventually hiring fewer blacks.

Read more in Fortune’s online story hiring-racial-bias.