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Correspondence study looks at racism in public services

African Americans in Maryland may be discriminated against when they try to access public services, according to a new study. Economists from the University of Southampton and the Institute for the Study of Labot conducted a study on racism by comparing how public service officials responded to emails from people with "black-sounding" names and emails from people with "white-sounding" names.

Researchers working on the study sent email inquiries to 19,079 sheriffs' offices, libraries, county clerks, job centers and schools around the country. Two "white-sounding" names and two "black-sounding" names were used to sign the emails. The names that were chosen had been shown in past studies to be perceived as distinctive of each ethnic group. Researchers determined that the inquiries from people with "black-sounding" names were four percentage points less likely to receive a response from any public official and seven percentage points less likely to receive a response from sheriffs' offices.

When the emails from people with "black-sounding" names did receive a response, the responders were less likely to address the sender by their name or use a cordial tone. The study was what is known as a correspondence study and is thought to be a reliable way to detect discrimination. In the past, correspondence studies have been used to study racism in the housing market and the job market.

Many companies will not admit that they are making employment decisions that are based on race. However, an investigation into the employer's previous hiring decisions could reveal a pattern of racial discrimination. Those who believe that they were discriminated against when they applied for a job may want to talk to a lawyer about filing a discrimination claim with the appropriate agency.

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