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More Than Half of Black College Graduates Underemployed

Recent black college graduates have been hardest hit by the Great Recession.

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Going to college is supposed to be the big ticket to a prosperous life, but for minority students, this particular American dream can be very elusive.

In a new study, the Center for Economic Policy and Research finds that recent black college grads (aged 22-27) have an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent. That's over double the number for college grads in the same demographic and it's nearly a threefold increase from pre-Recession levels in 2007.

A whopping 55.9 percent — more than half of black grads — are underemployed, taking jobs far below their education level. "In eight of the thirteen major categories," the researchers write, "black recent college graduates that did find a job were more likely to end up in a job that did not require a four year degree than in one that did." And such jobs, such as those in the restaurant and retail sectors, are increasingly low-paying.

Even black grads entering the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, where employees are both highly sought and highly paid, suffer a 10 percent unemployment rate and a 32 percent underemployment rate.

Racial discrimination in the labor market, a crappy economy and an unequal playing field are the culprits, according to the authors of the study. They note that "a college degree blunts both these effects relative to young black workers without a degree, but college is not a guarantee against either set."

That's what minority students face if they make it out of college with a degree. Of course, just getting the diploma is tougher if your skin is brown, even when you are highly committed to the task.

According to a recent report issued by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas, black and Latino male students enter community colleges with higher aspirations than those of their white peers, but white men are six times as likely to graduate in three years with a certificate or degree. That happens even though minority men are more engaged than their white counterparts in tutoring, study-skills sessions and other activities that are supposed to be tied to success.

Black students trying to make their way at predominantly white colleges face everything from identity challenges to overt racism. Black men appear to have the most dramatic hurdles: In a much-discussed YouTube video, UCLA student Sy Stokes notes that just 48 black men entered UCLA in fall 2012. And not all of them will graduate. Are we really over 50 years past the Civil Rights Act? Clearly, opportunity is not color-blind either during or after graduation.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.