One out of eight black American men who graduated from college is employed by the federal government, according to a study issued last week by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

In specific fields the importance of federal jobs to black male professionals is even more striking. The government employs one out of four black males who are scientists or computer specialists, and one out of five of the engineers and accountants.

Overall, the federal government employs about 5 per cent of all American college graduates - about 1 out of 20, the study says, but just 3 per cent of all Americans who work.

Richard B. Freeman, a Harvard University economics professor who wrote the report, said the high proportion of black professionals working for the federal government was a major factor underlying the substantial gains blacks have made during the past decade in breaking traditional patterns of discrimination.

"It's not a new phenomenon for so many black professionals to work for the government," Freeman said, "because government has been less discriminatory against blacks. But the extent of it is startling.

"During the past decade as the number of black professionals has increased, the government maintained its share and they have moved up into higher level positions.

"There's also been a great opening of jobs [for college-educated blacks] in the big corporations," he added, "and that's very important. None of these companies had ever gone out to recruit blacks before."

For blacks with comparable education and experience, Freeman reported, earnings were considerably higher in government than in private business. Whites, on the other hand, earned more in business than in government.

Black professionals also are heavily represented in state and local governments, Freeman said, which is a result of black voting gains as well as of anti-discrimination laws and court decisions.

Overall, he said, about 51 per cent all male black college graduates are employed by governments - either federal, state or local, compared to about 25 per cent per of college-educated white males.

Although the largest number are teachers, there are very high proportions of black employed by governments in other fields as well - about 28 per cent of black lawyers, compared to 14 per cent of lawyers overall, 47.5 per cent of personnel and labor relations professions, compared to 25 per cent overall, and 24 per cent of all black men who are managers, which is about double the overall proportion.

During the 1960s, Freeman reported, the share of black managerial workers employed by governments nearly tripled.

Nearly all the data in Freeman's report comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Labor Department or the Civil Service Commission, but much of it is from computer tapes and surveys that have not been analyzed and assembled before.

Traditionally, Freeman said, blacks have earned far less than whites no matter what their level of education and experience, with college-educated blacks being farther behind whites with the same education than those who were just grade-school graduates and high school graduates.

By 1974, the income differential among women had ended. Freeman said, and black women college graduaters earned about 10 per cent more than white women college graduates.

Among men, the average income of blacks was still 29 per cent below that of whites. Among college educated men the deficit for blacks was 23 per cent. However, because of heavy recruiting of recent black college in graduates those in their late 20s earned 9 per cent more than white graduates who are in the same age.

For the first time in history, Freeman wrote, "young highly educated black men all black women [are] beginning their careers on rough parity with comparable whites."

But he added: "The relatively slow progress of older black men [means] that overall parity [has] not been attained, and is unlikely to be attained for many decades."

The current job market for blacks, Freeman concluded is "a sharp break from the past [but] it is not the milennium."

In academic jobs, though, Freeman reports, blacks now have a "modest advantage" over whites. Those with doctorate degrees, he said, earn slightly more than whites with the same credentials, while black scholars get paid considerably more than whites with same number of articles published in academic journals.

Overall, he said, male black academics now earn about 7 per cent more than whites with similar qualifications while black women earn 9 per cent more than whites.

In some institutions, he said, lower hiring standards may have been applied to black faculty members, while nearly everwhere blacks with strong academic credentials now earn considerably more than comparable whites.