Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Patrice Whitely, Nekeisha Spencer and Mikhail-Ann Urquhart | Job hunting and discrimination

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2016 | 7:12 AMPatrice Whitely, Nekeisha Spencer and Mikhail-Ann Urquhart

A recent study finds evidence to suggest that employers are more likely to respond to job applicants from high-income neighbourhoods and with high-income-sounding names. These findings suggest that class discrimination is present in the Jamaican labour market.
The study, conducted by economists, sought to determine if class discrimination starts from the moment an applicant begins his or her job search. More than 1,000 resumes were sent in response to job advertisements for non-managerial positions in the Kingston Metropolitan Area.
Using first names and addresses to suggest an 'applicant's' class to the employers, multiple resumes with various qualifications were sent in response to each job advertisement. All 'applicants' were adequately qualified for the advertised responsibilities, but some resumes contained more education and years of experience than others.
To ensure the most authentic results, first names were selected from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica voters' list for the Kingston Metropolitan Area.
The first names used to indicate a higher class were selected from residents living in areas with higher average incomes, while names selected from residents of lower-income areas were used to indicate a lower class. Public surveys were conducted to find out whether these names were really perceived to be of a particular class and gender.
What the study reveals
The study reveals five things about class discrimination in the urban labour market.
1. Applicants have different chances of receiving an invitation for an interview depending on their name, address and gender.
2. Applicants with names perceived to be 'high-income sounding' are twice as likely to receive a callback for an interview than those with names perceived to be 'low-income sounding.' Thorough statistical analysis reveals that the odds of receiving a callback with a 'high income sounding' name is almost 3 times greater than the odds of receiving a callback with a 'low income sounding' name.
3. For every 100 employers, there are 10 employers who prefer applicants with high income addresses on their resume, while only 5 employers appear to have a preference for applicants with low income addresses. 
4. Males receive half as many interview callbacks as females.
5. Differences in qualifications do not affect an applicant's chance of receiving a callback for an interview. This finding, however, must not be mistakenly interpreted as an indication that qualifications do not matter. Since all the resumes sent out were created to meet the basic requirements of each job, we can only say that having additional qualifications does not appear to affect the chances of receiving an interview callback.

Class matters?
Is there class discrimination in the Jamaican labour market? The short answer --yes! However, there is only so much the study reveals.
First, the study only examined how class discrimination impacts the chance of receiving an interview. It does not provide any conclusions on how class determines the probability of actually obtaining a job.
Second, the study looks at specific types of jobs advertised only in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. Resumes were sent in response to customer service, clerical, administrative and sales positions. These are typical non-managerial, entry-level positions. So it is unclear whether the same pattern of class discrimination holds in the application process for jobs in rural areas or for higher-level positions.
There is one last note of caution in applying the results to the general labour market. Resumes were sent to positions advertised in the classifieds of periodicals and on certain job websites. Resumes were only sent to jobs that could be applied to electronically -by email or by a form on the Web. This study does not account for other ways people apply for jobs.
Discrimination increases income inequality
Class discrimination in the labour market  leads to greater income inequality. This leads to the cliché, but all-too-true cycle of the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.
Lower-income job seekers who are overlooked in favour of high-income applicants for interviews have an even smaller probability of obtaining employment. This means that the process of trying to obtain employment is more costly for lower-income labour market participants. This cost comes in the form of current spending, time and future earnings.
Since poorer job seekers must, on average, send out twice as many applications, they will have to spend more to find and respond to job advertisements. They also spend longer periods of time searching instead of working. This means that they lose out on the opportunity for potential earnings, as well as time gaining experience. This is worrying since it means that their entire lifetime income will be lower. Additionally, having less experience leads to lower wagers.
Labour market discrimination is also costly to society and not just applicants. If qualified workers are not given a fair opportunity to compete for employment, then the best person for the job may not be found. This has grave implications for productivity.
Can we eliminate labour market discrimination?
Despite the previously mentioned conditions, this study provides a necessary glimpse behind the curtain of labour market discrimination in our nation. It should inspire discussions on how to identify and mitigate class discrimination.
Potential options for improvement may include 1) creating public and private anonymous job banks that only reveal an applicant's qualification to employers prior to an interview; 2) providing incentives to employers who utilise fair practices in the hiring process; and 3) implementing training and job placement programs for qualified low income job seekers.
Before meaningful actions can be implemented, more information on class discrimination is necessary. There are still questions that need to be answered:
What is the extent of class discrimination at later stages of the employment process?
Do areas outside of the KMA face similar issues of discrimination?
Do institutions discriminate differently?
Nekeisha Spencer and Patrice Whitely, University of the West Indies, and Mikhail-Ann Urquhart, Binghamton University. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and