Diverse narratives: Does hard work truly lead to success in the workplace?

The idea that a strong work ethic and determination can help one surpass obstacles and lead them to everlasting success has been instilled in society. This “mentality verging on invincibility” coinciding with the notion that “nothing can stop me but myself” has led to the perpetual idea that hard work will pay off in the futures of individuals, regardless of what stands in their way (Simmons, 2019). However, Simmons’ TIME article combats this concept with the reality that “you can do everything in your power- and still fail”, especially when looking through the lens of “underrepresented minorities on campus, including first-generation students and students of color.” (Simmons, 2019). Due to the cultural and societal obstacles and barriers placed within American institutions, the BIPOC community is unable to truly see hard work pay off, despite being told that academic and professional focus, determination, and vision would drive one towards success. 

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate in 2022 for White workers dropped to 3.0%, while the rate for black workers increased to 6.5%. As the Center for American Progress states, “African Americans have always been more vulnerable in the labor market. They regularly experience higher unemployment rates and work in worse jobs, which feature lower pay and fewer benefits, than Whites.” If the results of their futures followed the trend the phrase “hard work pays off” implies, their unemployment rate would be decreasing at a similar rate to Whites, but rather, it is seen to be increasing while Whites’ unemployment rate continuously decreases. Even when Blacks have degrees of high levels of education, “Blacks are the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.” (Kroll, 2012). Further, in 2012, “ the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.7 percent is almost double the 9.1 percent rate for the rest of the population. And it’s twice the 8 percent White jobless rate.” (Kroll, 2012). This history of the Black population having fewer opportunities in the workplace, while still having the same qualifications as their White competitors, can be attributed to the structural racism at play in the workplace. Kroll’s 2012 study found that there was a sizable gap in callbacks to job openings for applicants with White-soundings names versus Black-sounding names and that benefits of a better resume were 30% greater for Whites than Blacks, illustrating how racism plays a role in the future of Black individuals, regardless of the amount of work they put in throughout their lives. 

The racism at play within the structures of the workplace is also seen to directly impact the salaries of Black workers when compared to White workers, further diminishing the assumption that work ethic leads to financial success. In 2006, “Black men with a master’s degree earned $27,000 less than White men with the same credentials”, leading researchers to believe that there was racism at play because despite their qualifications being the same, Whites and Blacks were earning a significantly different amount of money annually (Assari, 2018). Additionally, when comparing household incomes, “Black households have received 58% of what Whites earned, but Blacks made far less compared to Whites.” due to Whites receiving more opportunities to increase their salary than Blacks (Assari, 2018). Assari’s 2018 study also conveys that employment among Blacks versus Whites is due to the racial gap in America. He states that the racial gap immediately leads Blacks and Whites into different types of occupations, usually ending up with Blacks in lower-paying jobs. Furthermore, Assari states that “Blacks are paid considerably less than Whites, particularly in high levels of education”, which is accredited to the racial gap and discrimination in the workforce. Assari also conducted another study focusing on the racial gap in occupational opportunities in 2019 and found that “For African Americans, an increase in educational attainment meant a higher likelihood of working in a White workplace and having more White coworkers. Such an increase in exposure to Whites in the workplace was associated with an increase in received discrimination. We can now understand why educational attainment, generated income, and employment bring vastly different effects to Whites and African Americans.”. Additionally, “educated African Americans have higher occupational stress than Whites. That is, highly educated [college degrees] Afri

Individuals studying to obtain degrees. Photo by: Institute for Higher Education Policy

can Americans enter jobs that are associated with higher levels of stress” (Assari, 2019). This stress African Americans face at work is due to the segregation they face because they do not have access to high-paying low-stress jobs, regardless of their educational attainment (Assari, 2019). Further, on average, “Black men were 2 percentage points more likely to continue high school and 3 percentage points more likely to attend college than White men with equal test scores”; yet, the unemployment rate conveys that even when Blacks and Whites have equal test scores, Blacks are still more likely to be seen without a job (Rivkin, 1995). Additionally, in Rivkin’s study, it was found that Black high schoolers and recent graduates had fewer job opportunities despite their schooling attained, and that “available evidence provides little doubt that Blacks are confronted by consistently higher unemployment rates than Whites”, illustrating how even when they immediately finish their schooling needed to achieve the success they were told they would, they are still faced with barriers and obstacles of actually getting positions in the workplace due to their race. It was also seen that highly educated Blacks tend to enter more jobs that involve high-stress environments; yet, they do not get paid nearly as much as Whites in these types of jobs, further conveying how racism in the American workplace is still intact and is impacting the opportunities and experiences Blacks have in the office despite having put in work to achieve high levels of education. 

The racism at play can even be seen when looking at it from the other end of the spectrum: Whites and Blacks not getting high levels of education and yet there still being a gap in job opportunities. It was found that “Black school leavers were much less likely to work than White school leavers with similar academic preparation.”, conveying how even when both Blacks and Whites dropped out of school at the same time in their educational careers, Whites were still given more job opportunities than Blacks. This lack of job opportunities for Blacks when compared to Whites is due to the racism in the job market and the biases individuals in the BIPOC community have because even when they do the opposite of what they were told to do (work hard in their adolescent stages), they still see results portraying the racism in the workforce. Thus, they are led to believe that regardless of how much they work, their hard work may never pay off because of the racial boundaries and implicit biases they face daily.

Works Cited

Assari, S., & Bazargan, M. (2019). Unequal associations between educational attainment and occupational stress across racial and ethnic groups. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(19), 3539. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193539 

Assari, S. (2017). Unequal gain of equal resources across racial groups. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 7(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.15171/ijhpm.2017.90

Kroll, A. (2012). What we don’t talk about when we talk about jobs. New Labor Forum, 21(1), 49–55. https://doi.org/10.4179/nlf.211.0000008 

President, J. C. V., Cusick, J., President, V., Director, M. C. A., Coleman, M., Director, A., Shepherd, Director, M., Shepherd, M., Director, Director, E. L. A., Lofgren, E., Gordon, Director, P., Gordon, P., Director, J. P. S., Parshall, J., Director, S., Hanlon, S., Khattar, R., Roque, L., … Olinsky, B. (2022, April 25). African Americans face systematic obstacles to getting good jobs. Center for American Progress. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.americanprogress.org/article/african-americans-face-systematic-obstacles-getting-good-jobs/ 

Rivkin, S. G. (1995). Black/white differences in schooling and Employment. The Journal of Human Resources, 30(4), 826. https://doi.org/10.2307/146234 

2021Q4 & 2022Q1: State unemployment by race and ethnicity. Economic Policy Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.epi.org/indicators/state-unemployment-race-ethnicity/ 


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