Black Job Applicants Routinely Turned Away For Suspected Drug Use, Study Finds

By McCarton Ackerman 05/12/14

The study also found that drug testing prior to employment proved beneficial to African-Americans, who were employed at higher rates in drug testing states.

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A new study has confirmed that not only are black job applicants routinely turned away by U.S. employers under the assumption that they use illegal drugs, but that pre-employment drug testing has actually been far more beneficial than harmful for African-American job seekers.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that states with pro-testing laws have higher percentages of African-Americans who work in “high-testing” industries and a decrease in the percentage of white people working in these industries. However, companies in states which don’t encourage pre-employment drug testing often, either consciously or subconsciously, assume that African-Americans are guilty until proven innocent of doing drugs.

Pro-testing laws increased the share of low-skilled black men working in high-testing industries by up to 30 percent, while also raising their wages by 12 percent compared to anti-testing states. But University of Notre Dame economics professor Abigail Wozniak, who authored the study, believes that employers are not intentionally discriminating against African-Americans.

“The results don’t look like what you would call typical old-school racism. The research in the paper suggest that the bias is coming in more subtle ways,” she said. “Instead of looking really hard at every applicant, they [employers] have these impressions that they go by. Testing gives them a rule of thumb that avoids this bias.”

The new study confirms the findings of similar research projects related to racial bias in the job application process. A 2003 report found that resumes with “white-sounding” names were more likely to receive callbacks for interviews than names associated with the black community. Because of this, Wozniak believes that workplace drug testing can help “non-using Blacks to prove their status to employers, even as the drug war linked Blacks with drug use in the popular imagination.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.