The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 371-399

First online:

What Does a High School Diploma Get You? Employment, Race, and the Transition to Adulthood

  • Marla McDanielAffiliated withUrban Institute, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population Email author 
  • , Daniel KuehnAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, American University

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We compare the employment of African American and white youth as they transition to adulthood from age 18 to 22, focusing on high school graduates and high school dropouts who did not attend college. Using OLS and hazard models, we analyze the relative employment rates, and employment consistency, stability, and timing, controlling for a number of factors including family income, academic aptitude, prior work experience, and neighborhood poverty. We find white high school graduates work significantly more than all other youth on most measures; African American high school graduates work as much and sometimes less than white high school dropouts; African American dropouts work significantly less than all other youth. Findings further suggest that the improved labor market participation associated with a high school diploma is higher over time for African Americans than for white youth.


High school Racial disparities Employment Transition to adulthood