By Chris Hoenig
Many employers avoid hiring Blacks because of the assumption that they do drugs, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
But a simple solution is statistically proven to help change the hiring practices of these companies: drug testing.
“Nearly half of U.S. employers test job applicants and workers for drugs. A common assumption is that the rise of drug testing must have had negative consequences for Black employment,” study author Abigail Wozniak said. “However, the rise of employer drug testing may have benefited African-Americans by enabling non-using Blacks to prove their status to employers.”
Wozniak’s research found that in what she terms “high-testing industries,” the introduction of drug testing increased the share of Black applicants being hired. Relative employment among white and Black applicants flip-flopped in the years before and after states enacted laws allowing testing: Relative employment among whites was nearly twice as high as Blacks in the 10 years before testing laws took effect, but fell well below the employment level for Black applicants 10 years after.
The opposite held true in states that do not allow employers to test for drug use.
“Adoption of pro-testing legislation increases Black employment in the testing sector by 730 percent and relative wages by 1.413 percent, with the largest shifts among low-skilled Black men,” Wozniak writes. “Results further suggest that employers substitute white women for Blacks in the absence of testing.”
The research, according to Wozniak, shows that employers are using more implicit ways to discriminate against Black applicants. “The results don’t look like what you would call typical old-school racism,” she told The Huffington Post in an interview. “The research in the paper suggests that the bias is coming in more subtle ways. Instead of looking really hard at every applicant, they have these impressions that they go by. Testing gives them a rule of thumb that avoids this bias.”
Understanding the Drug Bias
Wozniak’s research furthers the statistical documentation of an unfoundedand costlybias against Blacks when it comes to drug use.
Blacks made up more of the 225,000-plus convicted felons serving time in state prisons for drug-related offenses in 2012 than any other race; more than 91,000 Blacks were incarcerated, compared with about 67,000 whites and fewer than 50,000 Latinos.
These stats come despite multiple studies that show that whites are actually more likely to use drugs than any other race or ethnicity, except for American Indians. A 2011 study from Duke University professor Dr. Dan Blazer found that 9 percent of white Americans suffer from a substance-use disorder, including the less-severe “substance abuse” and the addiction-level “substance dependence” diagnoses. That numbers drops to 7.7 percent of Latinos and only 5 percent of Blacks.
Despite the increased use of drugs among whites, a Queens College/Drug Policy Alliance report found that the NYPD alone had spent a minimum of $440 millionand as high as possibly $1 billionin a drug-sweeping campaign that targeted Blacks and Latinos. The campaign netted nearly a half-million arrests; 85 percent of those arrested were Black or Latino.