Imagine for a moment that you finally have the perfect resume for your dream job. You’ve worked your entire life for this feeling of gratification and success. You know you are perfect for this job. You walk into your interview with a high of adrenaline running through your system. While you wait to be called back, you hear whispers flooding the room. You can feel strangers’ eyes staring at your body, trying to figure out “what” you are. That high you were feeling quickly turns sour. You feel your face flush with anger and embarrassment. That interview turns into a blur of emotion as the interviewer says, “I just don’t think this is the right job for a… person like you.” This is what it is like for countless transgender Americans. Transgender people are more likely to experience unemployment rate inequality than their cisgender counterparts.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) the unemployment rate was 15% among transgender individuals. That’s three times higher than the 5% national unemployment rate. For trans people of color, this unemployment rate is even higher. It ranges from 20% for black trans people to 35% for Middle Eastern people (James). This unemployment rate difference is similar to the difference between white and black unemployment rates (Davidson). Employment rates for transgender individuals is close, but still below the national average (Hill 532).
One reason for this inequality is because transgender people are less likely than cisgender people to have attended or graduated from college. Therefore, these individuals are less likely to find employment and struggle to reach a higher income bracket. In one study they found that 16.13% of transgender respondents earn less than $15,000 a year, where only 10.41% of cisgender people earn the same amount. They also found that 32.68% of transgender people, compared to nearly half (47.54%) of cisgender people earn more than $50,000 a year (Meyer).
Another reason for employment inequality is because employers are more likely to pick a cisgender individual over a transgender individual. In a study conducted by the Office of Human Rights, 48% of employers were found to pick less-qualified people seen as cisgender over a transgender applicant who is more qualified (Grant 66). Thirty-three percent of employers were found to give interviews to less qualified cisgender applicants than to transgender individuals with similar or better qualifications (Grant 66). Over a quarter of the transgender population said they were not hired, were laid off, or did not receive a promotion because of their gender identity. Eighty-percent of the transgender population who were employed in 2015 experienced harassment or mistreatment during their job (James 148). Although employment rates among transgender people were close to the national average, many of them had to change their jobs during their medical transition due to hostility. Most of their employers did not accept their new gender identity (Hill 532).
The next reason for unemployment inequality between transgender and cisgender employees is pervasive misunderstanding. People are not willing to understand the idea of someone being transgender. Hiring bias and on-the-job discrimination exists for many transgender individuals. One of the biggest challenges that transgender people face during their job search is the contradiction between their appearance, their name on their legal documents, and what gender the employer may see them as (Movement Advancement Project).
Another reason for the unemployment inequality is a lack of explicit legal protections for transgender individuals. According to the Human Right Campaign:
“Transgender workers facing discrimination may seek recourse by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC will work to mediate a settlement on the worker’s behalf and has done so successfully. However, EEOC rulings are not binding on private employers, furthering the need for explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender workers under federal law,”(Movement Advancement Project).
The next reason that there is an inequality between transgender and cisgender unemployment rates is because transgender individuals may not be able to update their identity documents. The process of getting documents that allow transgender people to be identified correctly is incredibly hard. Not only that, but the government makes the process almost impossible to complete (Movement Advancement Project). Of course, without these identification documents, you cannot legally be hired in the United States. Therein lies the problem. Often, these individuals are met with the same discrimination at government facilities as they are met with in the workplace. Once someone is treated poorly somewhere, they tend to not want to return.
The last reason for this inequality of unemployment rates between transgender and cisgender individuals is because most workplaces deny transgender people personal medical leave. Transgender people have necessary medical related care that often gets denied by employers. Employers are currently allowed to deny this care because there are no government protections in place for transgender employees. These workplaces incorrectly say that such care does not equal a serious medical condition. As a result, transgender employees may have to face the difficult choice of either putting their jobs as risk to take care of their needs or make do without the necessary healthcare and put themselves at risk (Movement Advancement Project).
Clearly, they are may factors perpetuating the unemployment inequality between transgender and cisgender individuals. An underlying tone of discrimination flows through America’s businesses and government. This discrimination makes it hard to get an education, a job, or even a simple identification document. To change this inequality, we must put ourselves in transgender individuals’ shoes. We need to set protections in place to prevent this inequality from occurring.