Study: Drug Testing in the Workplace Boosts Employment of Black Males

African American Construction Worker

A paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shared some surprising results in terms of who benefits and who suffers when employers enact drug-testing requirements in the workplace. The research, conducted by Notre Dame University economist Abigail Wozniak, showed that drug testing in the workplace actually led to increased employment in black males. And while that might seem like good news, Wozniak told PolicyMic that it's actually indicative of certain biases against black men and a false perception that African Americans use more drugs.

"A common assumption is that the rise of drug testing must have had negative consequences for black employment," wrote Wozniak, as quoted by TIME. "However, the rise of employer drug testing may have benefited African-Americans by enabling non-using blacks to prove their status to employers."

According to TIME, African American employment increased between 7 percent and 30 percent in states with high levels of drug testing. Likewise, African American wages were 1.4 to 13 percent higher in states where employees were more likely to undergo the tests.

As PolicyMic noted, low-skilled black men were impacted more than other groups when drug testing initiatives were employed in their local job market, since companies that generally test are in industries such as mining, transportation and utilities. These firms are also generally bigger and offer higher wages and better benefits.

The fact that drug testing allowed black men to prove that they didn't use drugs helped reveal employer biases and led to better employment opportunities. "These pro-testing firms hired more blacks and paid more," Wozniak explained.

The benefits of drug testing weren't felt by all groups, however. The employment rate of women fell by 1.5 percent in states and industries where drug testing was prevalent.

Research shows that these perceptions matter when it comes to equal opportunities for employment, which is why it's important for Wozniak and others to continue searching for and exposing inconsistencies and instances of discrimination. According to PolicyMic, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that drug use in whites and African Americans is nearly identical. Between 1990 and 2006, 14 percent of whites and 13 percent of African Americans admitted to drug use over the course of a month.

As Quartz noted, many believe that this study and others prove that discrimination is alive and well in the workplace, and that African Americans often take the brunt of any misguided biases or beliefs. The fact that drug testing in the workplace gives blacks a platform to prove that they don't use drugs doesn't necessarily solve any problems with discrimination. In fact, as the research shows, it only proves that there is a problem to begin with.

According to Quartz, this most recent study is only the beginning of Wozniak's work on the topic, as she hopes to continue studying various problems in the labor market. And she'll soon have ample opportunity. Next month, Wozniak begins a term as a senior labor economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"New Study Finds Unlikely Beneficiaries of Drug Testing: Black Men.", May 15, 2014, Max Taves,

"Study: Drug Testing Boosts African-American Employment,", May 18, 2014, Bijan Stephen,

"When US companies drug test, they wind up hiring more black people,", May 16, 2014, Tim Fernholz,,2/

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