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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Monday, July 9, 2007

National Statistics on Transgender Unemployment

Richard Juang, a respected scholar and activist, has posted some national statistics on transgender discrimination. He cites studies showing a 35% unemployment rate and 60% earning less than $15,300, as well as high rates of workplace termination, denial of employment and harassment. It's interesting to compare these to the statistics in the general US population.

The transgender statistics are much higher that the statistics in the general US population - the unemployment rate is about 8 times higher and the poverty rate is about 5 times higher. The general population statistics show a a 4.5% unemployment rate and a 13% poverty rate (earning $10,488 or less for 2006). But there are difficulties with making these statements. First is the fact that the poverty rate threshold, $10,488, is lower than the $15,300 cited in the statistics. But the rate comparison is still useful, because $15,300 is still a fairly low income, and it's reasonable to figure that the percent of the general population earning that amount might be 15% to 20%. That would make the poverty rate for transgender people three times higher - still extremely high.

In any event, this minor peccadillo is nothing compared to the gaping hole of sample selection - how they found the people included in the survey. In other words, if you were to put all the names of transgender people in the US in a hat and draw out the names of 100 of them at random, you'd get a bunch of people pretty much unconnected to each other. If you looked at their incomes, you'd probably find a wide disparity. But if I were to distribute the survey through the local GLBT center to find 100 transgender people, you'd probably find that this group is less random and more connected by certain characteristics - perhaps, for example, age. It may be that younger people ages 16-24 tend to go to the GLBT center. Younger people 16-24 tend to have lower incomes and higher unemployment. But our comparison figures for the US general population are people of all ages under 65. And that group has people in their 50's at the peak of their income and employment. So we're comparing a group of young transgender people with a group of all-age US residents. It's like comparing the New York Yankees to the Brooklyn Cyclones (a minor league baseball team). In fact, if you look at the San Francisco study, they acknowledge that it was not distributed to transgender people randomly, but rather through personal contacts, social service and volunteer organizations, email lists, and a website. "It is not a random sampling and should not be understood to be scientific in nature."

Now, I have no doubt that unemployment and poverty statistics among transgender people are higher than the general population, and that the difference is based on discrimination. But in reading a study, the key is knowing who they're measuring and who is not being measured. When you do a random sample, you can find out how many people don't respond, and get a sense of the demographics you're missing. With a self-selection system, where anyone who wants to can fill out the survey, it is likely that the people choosing to take the time and effort to fill out the survey are people who are interested in the topic (discrimination) and who have extra time on their hands (most of the high income group is at the office and has no time for this nonsense). So in terms of a strict comparison - 4.5% unemployment rate versus 35% unemployment rate - it's not likely to be very accurate. Nor is there an easy way to get a random sample of transgender people, because many transgender people are not out and there's no way to find them. Does that mean we should ignore these statistics? Absolutely not. In terms of getting a sense of what 194 transgender people in San Fransisco said about their lives - it's a useful snapshot. Those 194 are getting kicked around by the system. Transgender people generally may or may not be getting a fairer shake. But it's clear that a lot of transgender people aren't.


Mikey The Suit said...

Your article came to my attention via a student in a Criminology course that I teach. I appreciate that you recognized and pointed out the facts regarding how the survey was conducted, since those methods likely had an impact on the results.

My student presented the conclusion that the high unemployment and dismissal rates and low income for transgendered adults is evidence of discrimination. Admittedly, I know little about this subject, and I present this question without judgment (I hope it comes across that way) but my first thought was to wonder if personality traits or other innate qualities found to be in common among transgendered people might relate to unemployability. Do you think this is possible? Are there personality traits or other innate qualities that are generally commmon among the transgendered population?

I recently completed a dissertation that examined, in part, common personality traits among high-IQ college students. That population generally shares certain traits that interfere with socialization, so I was thinking that there may be a similar issue here.

Thanks for considering these comments; I look forward to your thoughts.

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss said...

Thanks for your comment. I don't think the likelihood is high of common personality traits (which I wouldn't classify as "innate") among transgender people. There is an extremely wide diversity of transgender people among classes, races, education levels and other characteristics. I have known some who are extremely brainy, and some who are not very smart. Others are extremely sociable and gregarious and unselfconscious, whereas others are introverted, socially awkward and riddled with self doubt. You would have to eliminate a lot of variables to make any valid conclusion about transgender people. While I have heard some people make such generalizations, claiming to know a lot of transgender people, they often know a lot of people within one limited segment of the community. I doubt that such a generalization would be borne out by a well-done study. Of course, I myself have formed various generalizations about transgender people, but this is what we call "prejudice", and not science.

I'd be interested to see your dissertation. Is it available anywhere?

dendenplz said...

I find that the prejudice depends greatly upon where you live. I live in New Hampshire (for example). If you look hard enough, and you are courteous you can find a place willing to hire you. I have been on testosterone for two years and been out at my work place the entire time I've worked for them for four years. They even took me off register when my voice started changing so that the cracking wouldn't be noticeable to customers. I only had to deal with harassment from one co-worker and it was dealt with immediately by my supervisors. I work full time, have health insurance and I consider myself quite fortunate. There's a MtF who works for another restaurant in the same franchise chain as mine as well; so it's not that they found a ftm less creepy either. :) It IS possible; places that will hire us exist and I make almost 10dollars an hour.