Why Are There So Few Black Economists at the Fed?

on Feb2
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But Mr. Gamble left college with a plan. He had discovered his interest in economics partway through university, when he found an old textbook in a public library and read it cover to cover, soaking in the descriptive logic — only to realize a Black man had written the text. It inspired him.

He dedicated his undergraduate summers to working on research projects with college professors and attending programs meant to help students from less-privileged backgrounds get on track to a doctorate, assembling a who’s who list of academic economists as recommenders.

Still, that wasn’t enough to get him a job at the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago or the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, all of which he had applied to, upon graduation. It did secure him a spot as an economic research scholar at Harvard University. And when he reapplied to the Fed the next year, with Harvard on his résumé, San Francisco hired him.

He felt out of place at the central bank branch and struggled to find meaningful work. He began asking around and learned that he was the first Black person ever to hold a research assistant job. Within months, he was looking to leave.

Then Mary C. Daly, who was the recently promoted president of the reserve bank, had lunch with him.

She, too, had an underdog background. She had dropped out of high school and passed a high school equivalency exam, and had attended a University of Missouri branch. She persuaded Mr. Gamble not to give up on the job just yet, urging him to give her six months and promising to help him find something new if he still wanted to leave at that point. He stuck it out — for six months, then for a year.

Eventually, he was promoted to be Ms. Daly’s personal research assistant.

Even as his own experience improved, Mr. Gamble became troubled by bank hiring practices. Research assistants helped to hire the next classes of R.A.s. He suspected it might be the case that screeners simply did not find Black candidates relatable and ruled them out early on.

“They’re going to pick people who are like them,” he said.

He pushed for changes, and San Francisco listened. Application readers began to talk through what would make a good candidate before the hiring process began, and discussed why they assigned job candidates the scores they did.

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