From The Grio — On Friday morning, the U.S. Labor Department released the nation’s unemployment numbers for June. With a jobless rate of 9.2 percent — much higher when the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for job are included — there is every indication that the nation has a long road to economic recovery. And economic growth for the next few years is forecasted at lower than 3 percent, the amount needed to keep unemployment at a constant level. The prospect of a double-dip recession still looms over America’s uncertain economic landscape.
An often overlooked aspect of the U.S. jobs outlook is black unemployment. Black joblessness officially stands at over 16 percent, including 17.5 percent for black men and over 41 percent for black teens. In New York City, in recent years, 34 percent for African-American men between 19 and 24 don’t have a job. And in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the jobless rate for black men is also 34 percent. The reality is that black unemployment, typically double that of whites over the years, has now reached Depression-era levels.
A number of reasons have been cited to explain these disparities. For example, outsourcing and globalization have negatively affected predominantly black cities. Urban public schools have ill-equipped and poorly prepared people of color for the job market, as black dropout ratesare higher and college entry rates are lower. But even among college graduates, unemployment for blacks is significantly higher than that of their white counterparts.
Meanwhile, job training programs are lacking in black communities. And ex-felons, of which blacks and Latinos are overrepresented, are precluded from certain jobs due to their prison record, as sectors that traditionally employed people with a record are slammed by the tough economy.
There are also structural explanations for the higher black unemployment rate, such as the open hiring discrimination that some employers practice against the unemployed, and some employers’ refusal to hire applicants with black sounding names. Typically, black workers are the last hired and first fired. Racial stereotypes exist, with employers in one Chicago-area studydescribing blacks as “unskilled,” “uneducated,” “illiterate,” “dishonest,” “lacked initiative,” “unmotivated,” “involved with gangs and drugs,” “did not understand work,” “unstable,” “lacked charm,” “had no family values,” and were “poor role models.”
According to a Gallup poll, 27 percent of blacks said they have experienced workplace discrimination. And a Drum Major Institute study found that white ex-convicts are as likely to be hired as blacks with no criminal record. In addition, the labor movement is not as powerful as in past years, and employers have the upper hand.
Moreover, the slashing of government jobs — exacerbated by the end of President Obama’s federal stimulus program — has hurt blacks the hardest because they are more likely to work in government. Nearly 21 percent of African-American adults work in the public sector, as opposed to 17 percent of whites and 15 percent of Latinos. In the film Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend said there is always work at the post office, but that is not necessarily the case today.
And many good jobs are in the distant suburbs, out of the reach of urban-dwelling blacks. Nonetheless, even when jobs are for the taking in their own backyards, African-American workers are finding themselves left out of employment opportunities, particularly those jobs that do not require a college degree.
A most poignant example came to light in Washington, D.C. in March, when demonstrators protested a $300 million reconstruction project, the largest transportation project in the district’s history, because contractors hired few D.C. residents for the project. Participants in the protest held signs reading, “DC Jobs for DC Residents,” “I Want to Work” and “Jobs for Justice.”
The project will replace Washington’s 11th Street Bridge, a twin bridge connecting the mostly black and poor Anacostia section — which has suffered from 30 percent unemployment — to the rest of Washington.
“Then they tell us that they can’t find qualified workers, or the workers are on drugs,” according to a Donald M. Temple, a lawyer who spoke for the demonstrators. “It’s atrocious,” he added, “and people are getting fed up with it…. These are predominantly poor, African-American workers… These people are being reduced to second-class citizenship, and it’s unacceptable.”
Similarly, President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus program has come under fire not only because it was insufficient in size to bring about economic recovery, but because black- and Latino-owned businesses received a disproportionately small number of stimulus contracts.
With the effort to begin work on “shovel-ready” stimulus projects immediately, states have relied on larger, predominantly white contractors who, in turn, have used their preferred subcontractors. Smaller minority-owned firms may lack the resources and staff, and may be unable to post construction bonds, which is a guarantee that a project will be completed. The quandary reflects a longstanding challenge faced by minority-owned businesses in landing government contracts.